The Kitchen Shower

In response to The Daily Post prompt: “Ingredients”what’s the magic ingredient in your kitchen you can’t do without? Easy! Love with a pinch of good advice.

As a young woman, I resisted ritual. I didn’t care which university won which rivalry. Secular sin! I tramped around Europe instead of stepping out at a debutante ball. Disgrace! I teased my mother about her sewing club’s monthly excuse for a neighborhood gabfest. Disrespect!

But in my earlier years, I could not rebel against a sacred life event: the kitchen shower.

“But, Mom, it’s Saturday,” I protested minutes before my sister Martha’s shower.

“Pipe down and dress up,” she replied.

Well, shut my mouth—nobody crossed the mother of the bride, especially at 15.

After enthroning the bride on an overstuffed wing chair, the hostesses invited the guests to pay court in a lopsided circle.
After enthroning the bride on an overstuffed wing chair, the hostesses invited the guests to pay court in a lopsided circle.

The gathering was a curious experience, a crash course on conduct becoming. I absorbed the nuances of gracious sitting, chorused compliments, and chitchat.

Chair decorum—legs pressed together with ankles primly crossed—made quite an impression. It was fascinating that so many women could assume the pose for two hours. Even the arthritis-plagued held fast. However, as one of the youngest guests, I never had a chance at chair manners. Every time I plopped down on a comfy loveseat, my mother pushed me out of it. Floor duty was the fate of females under 21 who had not given birth. In my lowly position, I gamely attempted the required posture, which froze one leg in a prickly snooze.

The bride ripped into her booty, a host of kitchen mysteries such as trifle bowls, ramekins, a mixer with dough hooks, relish trays, kitchen gadgets galore, and all sorts of knives. If Martha could not identify a gift, the appointed interpreter (my mother) would cry, “Oh, look, a paring knife!” The bride echoed, “Oh, look, a paring knife!”

Then everybody affected enthusiasm in sequence, rather like singing in rounds: “Oh-h-h-h! M-m-m-m!  Ah-h-h-h!” Heads bobbed all the while. They reserved unabashed shrieks for handcrafted works.

The women again admired each offering as they shoved it from one lap to the other for inspection. An oft-repeated phrase rang in my ears: “I have one just like it, and it’s a wonder, simply a wonder.”

Martha behaved remarkably, beaming and getting rather hoarse. Her cheerleader experience finally paid off: peppiness on demand.

The true challenge lay in balancing a loaded plate on my lap and discussing flowerbeds with strangers while sipping pink punch and not spotting the rug or watering down my lip-gloss.

I observed that honesty takes a backseat to diplomacy at such events. My mother raved about the chicken tetrazzini, though it tasted rubbery. The bride declared every ubiquitous casserole dish and crystal bowl as absolute necessities, though recently acquired triplicates were stacked on my mother’s dining room table.

Only once did I witness a forthright outburst.

On opening one of her packages, the bride exclaimed, “Molds! Molds for making congealed salad!  Grea-a-a-t!  Thank you-u-u-!”

But the horror-stricken junior bridesmaid, my younger sister Peggy, said, “MOLDED salad! Who wants to eat rotten MOLDED salad? Blue cheese is gross, but this is grosser.”

“MOLDED salad is for grown-ups, dear,” my mother hissed before dispatching the reluctant gourmet to the kitchen to help a hostess scrape plates.

Nannie on the matter of husbands:
Nannie on the matter of husbands: “Let your husband think he’s ruling the roost, but never let him know YOU are the one running the show. I had two husbands, and they never got out of line.”

Then came the moment of revelation. Half the women lingered for a second helping of lemon squares and coffee and dispensed their wisdom on how to maintain a happy husband.

“Take a little; give a little.”

“Don’t go to bed angry.”

“Don’t wake up angry.”

“Don’t visit his folks when you’re angry.”

“Don’t cook when you’re having a spat—it spoils the sauce.”

(Newlyweds argued a lot, I concluded.)

“Give-and-take, marriage is about give-and-take.”

“Don’t start a family for a least a year.”

“Oh, my, yes. My cousin got pregnant with triplets on her honeymoon, and she’s been tired ever since.”

(For the sewing club, procreation was a hotter topic than the latest bodice-ripper paperback.)

“A joint checking account—now that’s the true test of trust.”

“You can never be overinsured.”

“Compromise is the key. A little give-and-take goes a long way.”

“Try my recipe for Husband’s Delight; he’ll go for it every time.”

(Husband’s Delight—a gloppy casserole of Manwich sauce, hamburger, canned corn and onion topped on spaghetti—made my father grumpy the first and last time he sampled it.)

All that chatter gave me cold feet about marriage. Even Martha’s stiffened until my grandmother proclaimed: “Let your husband think he’s ruling the roost, but never let him know YOU are the one running the show. I had two husbands, and they never got out of line.”

That comment did wonders for my outlook. Today, I can coo, offer wisdom, and exclaim—handy talents now that my friends’ daughters are getting married. Best of all, my nieces are doing floor duty.

24 Comments

  1. Scribbleheart

    A total joy to read! I felt like I was there, staring at a set of whisks, thinking “Why would I need FIVE of these?”

  2. Karen Lin

    Ah molded salads. The high point of 70s cuisine. Love the gabfest. My grandma and grandpa did this over bridge. With a bunch of vets and vet wives calling themselves SNAFU (assume you know the acronym). Then there was the plastic-covered couch… but that angle is grist for the mill for my memoir. 🙂

    1. Catherine Hamrick

      Plastic-covered couch. That is a blast! My mother could not bear plastic. Plastic milk jugs instead of the rattle of the milkman’s glass dropoff on the back porch almost finished her. Whipped cream in a can? Do not mention it.

  3. donnaanddiablo

    You never fail to whisk me back in time to my own childhood, Catherine! In our house, the oohs and ahhhs were reserved not for salad molds (and perish the thought of aspic!) but for cake pans, bundt pans, pie dishes and the like. My granny’s burnt sugar cake was enough to make the staunchest matron swoon and every shower was filled with pleas for a recipe and the passing of that damned paper plate from which a bridal bouquet of ribbon was coaxed forth. Enough to send me running for the safety of my grandad and the barn…. 😉

  4. Aquileana

    Great post dear Catherine… The initiatory rites begin in the kitchen … Sometimes they move on to the bedroom, but they unavoidably return to their natural surroundings, meaning, the kitchen , of course
    Have a great week!!!! Best to you. Aquileana ⭐

  5. Daniel Hise

    Dear one, I suppose I should let you know that the exaggerated Southern accent followed by translation bits have no charm for me.  I assume you’re aiming that at a Northern audience, but even they may not respond positively.  Have you had any other comments about that?  Have you solicited any? I may be wrong, but I find that my instincts are usually accurate by now.  Otherwise, as I just emailed you, I greatly admire your increasing skill. Pappy

    1. Catherine Hamrick

      Good point. That accent has mostly disappeared. Some readers say they can hear Nannie and find it entertaining. I do not think I would use accents and “translations” in a book. Thanks for reading, M. D.

  6. Scribbleheart

    A totally minor point about this article for us “Union Jerks” – um, “Jacks” – a kitchen shower, in a city like New York, can actually mean “a shower-slash-bathtub located in the kitchen”, which was what I envisioned when I started to read your post. Then came the ribbons and the recipes and the jello mold salads, and it WAS LIKE I WAS THERE, except for the accents. ***Mad clapping***

  7. vanbytheriver

    Such a charming and funny post. And this Yankee didn’t need the translation. Charleston, S.C. for 4 of my adult years. You captured the mood so very well. ☺ Van So nice to meet you.

    1. Catherine Hamrick

      Van, thank you for dropping by. Interestingly, Upcounty SC flavor heavily tinged my grandmother’s Atlanta accent. Naked of r’s. How I love Charleston and the historic house tours on the battery–led by the dowagers. The end of an era.

      1. vanbytheriver

        I had the pleasure of touring the yellow house on Rainbow Row. One floor was dedicated to just a library and a grand piano. The gardens that they tucked into those narrow yards were beyond beautiful !!

  8. Catherine Hamrick

    The games were not too popular. My mom’s sewing club did something fun in place of that–but that is a surprise for another post.

    I love your recipe challenge! I may try that–maybe with that surprise activity done by the sewing club. Thanks for the inspiration.

  9. solsdottir

    That was a great post. I have to say I’m with the younger sister on molded salads, but I’m careful where I say that.

Thanks for dropping by. I welcome your comments!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s