The Relish Tray: A Thanksgiving Story Pt. 2

Thanksgivings at home were just as wonderful as our trips to Wendover and California.  How could I forget Neldon’s mobile home where Christmas decorations filled every available nook and cranny, and for each one there was a story as to when and where it had been acquired.  Amidst tinsel, elves, angels, and two-foot-tall Christmas dolls, I even spied ornaments from our Disneyland trip.

Cora and Loy Beth’s quaint brick home, shared by Peanuts the cat, was equally welcoming.  “Our home doesn’t always look like this,” said Cora, motioning to the assortment of children’s toys on the floor.  “Sometimes it’s worse.”

It was never mine or Loy Beth’s job to help with the cooking.  The small kitchen was already filled with experts who were up to the task, and we were provided with Christmas ornament kits to while away the hours until dinner.  Every year I came away with a different set of ornaments to add to my growing collection and in which I could feel the pride of making them myself.  I have sequined balls, bells, stockings, and candy canes in red, green, and gold, but my favorite one is a ceramic ornament of two smiling mice riding in a red sleigh which I painted.  These and others which the Evanses gave me as gifts remind me more of Thanksgiving than Christmas.

Lively conversation accompanied our dinners, and usually the subject got around to Disneyland at some point.  I still smile at the memory of Neldon standing up, putting his foot on the chair, and lifting his pant leg to show us the Mickey Mouse socks he was wearing.

“If you leave hungry, it’s your own fault,” was the statement that always preceded the feast, and it certainly held true.  Along with the heaping bowls of dressing, mashed potatoes, and yams, there was always a different gelatin salad each year.  My favorite was the one made with raspberry gelatin, blueberry pie filling, and pineapple with a sour cream topping.  Their homemade and home-canned mustard relish was like nothing I’d ever tasted–a tangy concoction of pearl onions, cauliflower, pickles, and peppers in a mustard sauce.  Then there was a gorgeous cut-glass relish tray with a silver liner and handle and a miniature silver fork.  It was filled with crunchy raw vegetables and a dip.

Of course, most people eat pumpkin pie to top off their Thanksgiving feast, but I doubt very many cut their pies into fourths like the Evanses.  I shouldn’t have mentioned that pumpkin was my most favorite pie because then it became the yearly ritual to tease me by placing a whole pie in front of me with a fork.  I just laughed and said that might be just barely enough.  Nevertheless, I was given a whole pie to take home with me at the end of the day.

At my ninth Thanksgiving with the Evanses, my new husband David joined the fold.  Our going to the Evanses rather than spending the day by ourselves at home seemed to be a natural progression and nobody ever questioned it.  To the Evanses he was a long-lost son, and as for David, one bite of Cora’s mustard relish and he was hooked.  They presented us with a wedding gift that day, a beautiful cut-glass candy dish and lid.

The very next year, mine and David’s sweet little six-week-old son Taylor came with us.  Cora promised to save a drumstick for him.  Taylor got plenty of attention that day as he was passed from one set of hands to the next, and he wiggled with pleasure.  It was a bittersweet holiday, however, for shortly after Taylor’s arrival, David and I had made the decision to move to faraway Tennessee where he had gotten a job.  The food, as always, was delicious, and we listened fascinated to Cora’s stories about what life was like when she was a little girl, but threading its way through every moment of the day was the realization that a well-seasoned and well-loved tradition was about to pass into memory.  We recalled incidents and people from the last nine years, and we knew that Thanksgiving would not be the same again.  Cora’s tears broke my heart as we hugged goodbye.  The sound of their laughter in my mind and the memory of their warm home in my heart would have been enough to carry with me, but they showered us with parting gifts as well–mustard relish for David, pumpkin pie for me, a baby book for Taylor, a small ceramic sculpture of a mother and her children for our new home…and the biggest surprise of all, the prettiest relish tray I ever saw, identical to the one that adorned their own Thanksgiving table. They told us to remember them when we used it for our holiday dinners, and we assured them we would.

David and I loaded the gifts into our car, put Taylor in his carseat, and took our places in the car.  It was a quiet ride home in the dark that night as I reflected on Loy Beth, Tammy, Neldon, and Cora and their relatives–angels from heaven who had been carefully placed in my life and had become my second family.  And it was then that David suggested I put my story on paper and present it to the Evanses as my gift to them.

We are settled in Tennessee now and making new friends.  One of the first things we unpacked was the little ceramic sculpture, and it has a place of honor on our mantle.  The relish tray stays packed away.  It is only taken out and used one day each year.  As Taylor grows older it will, no doubt, prompt stories from David and me about how the kindness of one family so positively affected our lives.

Perhaps one Thanksgiving yet to come, the relish tray will stay packed and we can journey back to spend one more Turkey Day with the Evanses.  What a fine holiday that will be.

 In Loving Memory of

Cora Beth Evans ~ 1921-2003

Cora Evans



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