The Jello Salad Revelation: How Not To Win Over Your In-Laws Posted by: Aaron Stearns | 0 Comments
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
I remember it very clearly. Yes. Defining moments are like that. It’s easy to recall the very second some truth became so obvious that you can’t imagine how you missed it before.
It happened on Thanksgiving Day. We were supposed to have already been on the road to my extended in-laws. Forty people packed in a house talking football and deer hunting were awaiting our arrival so they could eat.
I was standing in the kitchen trying to coax some dish to life. It was not cooperating. Every minute that ticked off the clock served only to remind me how desperate my situation was becoming. My husband was standing with one foot in the kitchen and the other in the living room. He really had no idea what to do. It was entirely possible his wife would throw a knife at him if he told her it was past time to go. Again.
That’s when I had the revelation: They are never going to like me. My husband’s family is never going to like me. And it really doesn’t matter how good or bad my cooking is, because they are never going to eat it. They worked out the menu of what they want to eat more than 30 years ago. My food is not on it. They don’t want it. So I did what any grown woman would do: I began to cry.
For the record, I’m not much of a crier. I just don’t really do that. It makes everyone uncomfortable. Then I have to redo my makeup. It’s just not worth the hassle. But something about the expectations and pressure of the holidays just sends me over the edge.
I should also be clear that when I say that they’re never going to like me, I don’t mean that anyone was suggesting a reenactment of the first Thanksgiving with small pox-infested blankets as party favors. I’m just not exactly their kind of girl.
For starters, I don’t really cook. This significantly limits my ability to contribute to traditional Thanksgiving fare. When I realized that making a turkey involved putting my hand up the hind-quarters of a dead bird, I pretty much bailed on that plan.
My husband is from meat and potatoes people. They live at the foot of a mountain, each with acres of land, where they cut fire roads in national forests. They have chicken houses and sometimes a cow or two. They know the difference between the communities of Carden Bottoms and Slaty Crossing in Yell County Arkansas. You’ll just have to take my word for it, this matters.
I’m more of an appetizers and desserts kind of girl. I grew up in a cul-de-sac in a nice neighborhood. The closest I’ve ever come to animal husbandry was two cats and a dog. But it turns out I’m allergic to cats, so now I’m just a dog person. I have great ideas for cutting out pie crusts and baking them as toppers for mugs of hot apple cider. They all look at me like I’m crazy. And smile. Because they are really nice people.
This leads to the bigger problem. I am not nice. I believe that I am kind. But nice has never been in my bag of tricks. I pretty much say the thing out loud that other people are thinking. That’s great for a laugh at cocktail parties, but not so great when dining with the nicest people on the planet.
I began to suspect things might not work out between us the very first time I met them. There had been one of the freak ice storms in the Southern town where I lived and my job required me to be there regardless of weather. I was telling a hilarious story about falling on the ice and cursing God for sending such weather to people who obviously had no ability to deal with it. It got weirdly quiet. No one laughed. I was confused. I had tried out this material on friends before I came. It killed. There was some uncomfortable coughing and throat clearing followed by an obvious change of subject. When we got back in the car, my husband looked at me like I was simple. “Babe, my uncle in a Freewill Baptist preacher. Your cursing God story was, um…” I wanted to melt into the seat. I am obviously too stupid to be let out in public. For the record, my husband claims he does not remember this incident. However, it wasn’t he who brought a lively room to screaming silence in ten seconds flat, now was it?
More than a decade after I started coming to Thanksgiving dinners, it still feels a little like I’m the mouthy broad who shows up every year with weird food. They look at me the way I would look at someone who came to my house every Easter with a Jello salad. I might think she was amusing entertainment, but I’m not really thrilled about her. There’s also no way I’m eating that mess.
To them, I am Jello Salad Girl. If you think about it, I should really be thankful that they open the doors and hug us when we arrive. I’m not sure I would be that gracious. But they do, year after year. Because even though they are never gonna like me, they have found a way to love me. I suspect it’s because my husband told them he does. And he’s been showing them and me for nearly 16 years he means it.
On the day of the Jello Salad Revelation in my kitchen, as I looked at my husband and cried, “They are never going to like me,” he gave me the gift of the honest truth. “Well, probably not. But I like you. And I’ve always known exactly who and what you are. So it doesn’t really matter what they think. Now does it?”
Despite a grand attempt at home training, Kerri Jackson Case (@kerrijack) has never cooked a full turkey. She does, however, mix a mighty fine cocktail and with enough of them, tells a grand story about exploding squirrels. She lives in Little Rock with her husband, son and two untrainable dogs. You can follow her unremarkable, but wildly entertaining life at DamnYouLittleRock.com.
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