The Relish Tray: A Thanksgiving Story

Rosebud

Amidst the traditional bounty that graces my annual Thanksgiving table, hidden among plates of turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce, a gelatin salad of some sort, and various vegetables, sits a relish tray stocked with carrots, celery, dip, et cetera.  It isn’t what fills the tray that’s special, it’s the tray itself–an intricate cut-glass dish separated into compartments and set into a shiny silver liner with a sturdy handle from which hangs a delicate, curved fork.  Surrounded by painstakingly prepared food eyed by hungry family and friends, it draws no particular attention.  In fact, it’s unique only in its appearance–it’s the most elegant-looking piece on our table, but alas, still just a relish tray, not exactly what the guests remark on as they leave or remember once it is cleaned and put away for another year.  But to me, it is much more than a relish tray.  Oh yes, to me, its tiny, glittering prisms hoard an entire decade of warm Thanksgiving memories.

I was a young woman in my early twenties when my adventurous spirit took me from my home in Tampa, Florida, to live in Provo, Utah.  I didn’t know anyone there.  I had no job or place to live when I arrived.  I simply had decided that the mountainous West held more appeal for me than sun and beaches.  I found an apartment my first day in town, a job in two months’ time, but it took a little longer to cultivate friends of the close, long-lasting kind.  Such were Loy Beth and Tammy Evans, a pair of sisters I met at church.  Loy Beth, the youngest, was close to my age and we became fast friends, attending dances, concerts, plays, going skiing and horseback riding.  She and Tammy even worked for the same company as me for a while, as did their mother Cora, and all of us spent lunchtime together every day.

One November, knowing I’d be alone for the holidays, the Evanses invited me to spend Thanksgiving with them, and I readily accepted, excited to share Turkey Day with people with whom I felt comfortable.  On that day I met Loy Beth’s older brother Neldon.  It was not to be the ordinary, run-of-the-mill Thanksgiving.  We all piled into Neldon’s van and made the three-hour drive to Wendover, Nevada for a little gambling excursion.  There’s not much to look at in the way of scenery between Salt Lake City and Wendover, but they were sure to draw my attention to the ‘tree in the desert,’ a huge concrete tree in the middle of the salt flats, bearing brightly painted balls for branches, someone’s work of art, which we couldn’t understand, but to which we attached enough curiosity to waken anyone who was asleep to view and comment on it.

In Wendover we engaged in ‘casino-hopping,’ moving on up the street when the nickel slot machines in one casino didn’t pay what we’d like.  Loy Beth was the lucky one.  With her sixty dollar jackpot she bought dinner for all of us at one of the many tasty holiday buffets.  All too soon, it was time to cross the desert again, putting us back home after dark, tired and with just a few leftover nickels as souvenirs of the day.

The Evanses, true turkey connoiseurs that they were, felt that a Thanksgiving dinner at home was still a necessity, and so on the Sunday following our Wendover trip, I was again invited to a dinner held in the clubhouse of Neldon’s mobile home park, where I met aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews.  During that gathering and another like it the following year after another Wendover trip, I never felt like an outsider.  The family took me in like they’d known me all my life.  I was included in their plans every year.  “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without you,” they said, and no matter what went on anywhere else I never made other plans for the fourth Thursday in November.

While some people’s memories of Thanksgiving blur together from year to year, no two holidays were alike for the Evanses and me.  One year, Loy Beth, Neldon, Cora, and I visited their Aunt Marie’s in Salt Lake City, and while the kitchen was filled with helping hands, Loy Beth and I ‘jigsawed’ puzzles, as Cora put it, and built reindeer and sleighs with Legos in the living room, eagerly awaiting our summons to the dinner table.

One of the most exciting holidays we shared was the year we took a four-day trip to Southern California.  By now, Tammy had a husband, Terry, and a two-year-old son, Kenneth, who joined us in that now-familiar van of Neldon’s.  All through the long night we drove through sagebrush-covered desert, eager for the delights that awaited us at the end of our journey.  When Thanksgiving morning dawned, our fitful night of sleep was quickly forgotten as we headed directly to Knotts Berry Farm and spent the afternoon riding the rides, being entertained by Old West shows and music, and feasting on a turkey dinner in Mrs. Knotts’ Chicken Dinner Restaurant that would rival any home-cooked feast.  Knotts Berry Farm is famous for their boysenberries and no trip there is complete without a boysenberry pie or tart.

Neldon, the official ‘trip planner,’ had arranged motel reservations, and our group took up three rooms at the Penny Saver Inn near Disneyland.

The next day, Friday, was spent in Disneyland, beginning with the Disney Character Breakfast, where costumed Disney characters visited with all the guests.  More rides and entertainment filled the agenda, and Kenneth had his picture drawn by a caricature artist.  Christmas decorations were already on display, and if there’s two subjects on which the Evanses and me were self-proclaimed authorities, it was Disney and Christmas.  We took in the fun sights and sounds like children at a circus.

The next day consisted of a drive to San Diego and a visit to the Nut Farm, a big candy store where Neldon jokingly threatened to leave Loy Beth and me.  That night we entered Disneyland one more time to see the trees and buildings lit up with thousands of tiny lights and to ride the new Splash Mountain in the rain at midnight after nearly all the other revelers had gone home.

We didn’t leave California until we absolutely had to, then we drove straight home and arrived back an hour and a half before I had to be to work on Monday morning.  Being back to work so soon after a memorable trip seemed to me much like Clara awakening from her wonderful dream in my favorite ballet, “The Nutcracker.”

~to be continued~

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