Family and Food
GAMMY GASTON’S THANKSGIVING OKRA GUMP
November 20, 2022 at 7:32 p.m.
...by Ariele M. Huff
A housewife in the fifties, my mother had degrees in Art, English, and Education, which mainly made her appear to her in-laws as highly over-qualified for the job. She cheerily relinquished her career as an innovative teacher and turned to making intricate Shakespearean dioramas and St. Patrick’s Day shadow silhouettes for her two bickering daughters and our high school-educated father.
No one could surpass my mother in transforming a mundane after school snack or minor holiday into an art project of elaborate dimensions. Returning home with our red plaid lunch boxes, my sister and I might find the kitchen table covered by a replica of a tiny skating party complete with icy pond, sparkling angel hair snow drifts, and snowsuit clad babies building snowmen. Appropriate refreshments—hot cocoa and painstakingly authentic Lebkuchen—were waiting and an appropriate segment from Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates was read to us as my sister and I engaged the snow babies in battles that left the powdered sugar ice rink dusting our hair and faces.
None of this phased my mother the teacher. An energetic optimist, she continued creating costumes, toys, parties, and projects that far outstripped our ability to comprehend the effort or meaning involved.
Only one thing could daunt my mother’s classically trained celebration skills: her in-laws’ ownership of all large holidays.
My father’s gigantic midwestern blue-collar family caravanned from the Iowa dustbowl to the Northwest where my mother’s family was already quietly attending college, the theater, and concerts. Dad was the upstart with intellectual interests, but he wasn’t willing to give up the huge family reunions orchestrated for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the fourth of July.
Her discomfort concealed, my mother sat in rooms with badly decorated Christmas trees, eating some kind of mud-colored rum-soaked dessert as she debated with an in-law about a political, religious, or philosophical issue.
Gammy’s Okra Gump was the final straw. A vicious old woman, Gammy presented her gump at every holiday meal and was so feared that it was eaten and never spoken of except to imply its traditional permanence, if not its merit.
Mom tried refusing, accepting but not eating, and a variety of other ineffective solutions.
Finally, one Thanksgiving, as the gooey dish was set before her for perhaps the fortieth time, my mother rose, summoned us to the car, and we left gumpless.
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