Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Proper Mayonnaise Salad

(My guest blogger for Leap Blog Day is the very talented Tangled Lou from Periphery. She is  a terrifically beautiful writer who manages to turn the every day into something stunning with her amazing imagery. Reading Periphery leaves me feeling like I just took a warm bath in a big tub, with candles and ambient lighting, and no kids asking me 'why do your nipples look like that?'. Check out her blog, I know you'll love her as much as I do. If you want to see where I'm posting today, check out Reese Rants & Raves and Triad Moms on Main. Make like Kriss Kross and jump, jump!) 


My in-laws all hail from New Orleans and its murky environs. My mother-in-law is a twin, and one of four sisters in a matriarchy that only a five to one estrogen ratio and that special voodoo version of New Orleans Catholicism can produce. She is, to say the least, outspoken. But outspoken in a way that reapplies its lipstick after every meal and sleeps on brush rollers every night.

Holidays at the in-laws' house were a huge adjustment for me when I was first married. Conversations tended to be shouted over the top of a ubiquitous television, and largely consisted of non sequitur, as no one appeared to be listening to anything that anyone else was shouting. Then the aunts and uncles would show up. Uncle Bob, a great big man from a family of giants would show up with his mother and assorted siblings in tow, with a jug of bourbon under his arm and shout: "I hope you made ham, because I brought the Turkey!" and proceed to pour a tumbler full of Wild Turkey and Coke for his 80-year-old mother who proclaimed every year: "I like to drink my Turkey!" I spent most holidays trying to disappear into the couch and hoping no one asked me a direct question, to which I would have to shout an answer as their back receded before me.

My first Christmas as the dubious daughter-in-law - a quiet, bookish, non-Catholic Yankee with an exotic upbringing (not just out of the South, out of the country!) - I did my level best to turn that dubious into dutiful. As my mother-in-law cursed and fussed in the kitchen, I came in and offered to help. I was a Yankee, but not completely without social graces.

"Um, you can make the salad," my mother-in-law decided. She gestured to the sideboard where the ingredients were awaiting construction. Here is what I found:

A can of pineapple rings.
A head of iceberg lettuce.
A jar of maraschino cherries.
A bag of shredded orange cheese.
The largest jar of mayonnaise I had ever seen outside of the food service industry.

Was this some sort of a test? Was I being hazed? It was like those IQ tests where you are given a group of completely nonsensical things and required to tell a story about them. I completely panicked. I didn't want to appear incompetent to my new mother-in-law, nor could I find my husband who always disappeared into his childhood self, shouting along with the rest of them. So it was just me and the mayonnaise. I had a dim recollection of some sort of stacked salad from pot-lucks as a child, so I did the best I could, layering each plate with a lettuce leaf, pineapple ring, a sprinkle of cheese and a cherry. I was completely at a loss as to what to do with the mayo, so I just left it on the side with the giant spoon she had provided me.

As we all came to the table for dinner, my sister-in-law, the consistent front runner for family matriarch should my mother-in-law ever exit the scene, bellowed just as we were all shushed for saying grace: "Mooooom! What's wrong with the salad?!" I died a little as my mother-in-law shot her The Look and swatted her with a dish towel. I was horrified to learn, as everyone went about righting their salads, that between the pineapple ring and the shredded cheese belonged a giant glob of mayonnaise. It was a family tradition, passed down from the original matriarch in the old country, know as "Nawlins". 

As my new family grew to tolerate my foreign ways, I was no longer put on salad duty and simply asked to bring a dessert. I also grew more accustomed to the rollicking family holidays. One year my father-in-law, a small and demented man (rendered smaller by the sheer force of his wife and more demented by copious amounts of Busch Light) disappeared into the garage with Uncle Bernard, a large and affable man with a taste for Wild Turkey and outlandish stories. There was a hubbub in the kitchen when they returned.
"You what?!" my mother-in-law shrieked. "You went out there and..." completely winded by her outrage, she was almost at a loss for words. "You went out there and SOLD THAT MAN A FISHING POLE?!" I wasn't sure whether my amusement or terror should prevail as she continued to rant. "ON CHRISTMAS, no less?! You sold that man a fishing pole ON CHRISTMAS! What is WRONG with you?!" Knowing their place, the two men slunk outside with the offending fishing pole to smoke and drink cheap beer in the quiet of the garage.

By the time my husband's younger sister got married, I was allowed to sit with the family at the church, but not to actually participate in the wedding, nor to sit at the head table. My job was to corral the cousins who were also not really "blood" and keep them occupied. One of these cousins was possibly the most tedious person I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I sat in the second limo, dressed in the dress my mother-in-law insisted on buying for me when I said I was thinking of making my dress for the wedding, my hair shellacked into some sort of helmet and trying not to scratch my make-uppy face, wondering why I wasn't allowed to ride with my husband. I remember clearly calculating the time it would take me to remove my shoe and thrust the heel of it through the tedious cousin's eye socket and make a quick getaway before anyone noticed I was gone. I decided not to risk it. 

The other night, my husband and I were talking about this very incident and wondering what his mother would have said if I had actually gone through with my murderous plans. It was a tough call. One the one hand, she was as annoyed by this guy as much as I was and he wasn't really "blood", so she might have thanked me. On the other hand, I could have ended up on the receiving end of a shrieking lecture: "You what?! YOU KILLED A MAN?! ON MY DAUGHTER'S WEDDING DAY?! What is WRONG with you?! On the way to the CHURCH, no less?!" My husband does a haunting impression of my mother-in-law. When our giggles died down, my darling husband said:

"Well, what do you expect from a girl that doesn't know how to make a proper mayonnaise salad?"


  1. LOVE THIS. Will be following her blog from now on too. Thank you so much for the introduction to a new blogger of such talent, Kelly!


  2. Oh my god, that is hilarious. I just love Suzanne. For some reason this particular post conjures up memories for me of my wedding to my first husband. On my side the attendees were well-educated uppity Unitarians and Jews. On his, a host of uncles with slicked-back greasy hair, huge belt buckles and boots. We had a champagne fountain at the wedding and the uncles all stood around it, nodding, talking and pointing appreciatively. A mayonnaise salad would have made them feel much more comfortable.

  3. What a fantastic story! I love it ~ adding a new blog to my Reader :)

    Thanks for sharing this - and your post over on my blog xx

  4. Tangled Lou never disappoints.
    At my first in-law Thanksgiving, there were potato chips on the table. Tho' I've gotten used to them over the years, I'll never forget that bowl of generic Lays.

  5. Tangled Lou always knows how to grab me and take me for a wonderful ride.

  6. Wonderful as always. (:

    Kind of scary though, as a single naive person ... at least now I'll know what to do if asked to make mayonnaise salad.

  7. Good lord, may I never -NEVER- be faced with mayonnaise salad. This is the kind of story that makes me almost thankful that my husband's family can't be bothered to speak to each other.

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  9. Oh wow! I remember my mother making that same mayonnaise salad. Guess I never really cared for it because I have never made it myself. I'm not from New Orleans but I do live in Louisiana. Must be a Louisiana thing! lol

  10. This is why I only bring beer to family events. You can't muck up beer. Great story, as usual!

  11. Love the story! Early in my marriage, I had similar incident with broccoli. My mother in-law doesn't like crunchy broccoli and had no problem telling me how much mine sucked.