A tale of two hams

Two weeks before the holidays, Mom called my grandmother to discuss the menu for Christmas dinner. That was her first mistake: never bring Nanna into the planning process unless you are willing to cede all authority. The trouble began when Mom told her that we were planning to have ham.

Her response: “Oh good, I’ve already got one.”

Red flag right there. Nanna always says this. She owns four or five refrigerators and freezers, each one packed to bursting point. The problem is that the foodstuff in question is never less than 4 months old, and in extreme cases may date back to 1980. By careful interrogation, Mom was able to determine that the meat in question was purchased from Walmart, although she could not ascertain the date of purchase or whether it had been refrigerated since then. She therefore told Nanna that she had already ordered her own ham (truth) and that it was too late to cancel the order because it had already been paid for (pardonable falsehood).

This sounds like a minor affair, but you must understand the extreme caution with which the family has learned to treat anything that comes out of Nanna’s kitchen. In addition to her disregard for expiration dates, she has a very cavalier attitude toward the laws of basic hygiene. So Mom spent the next week wringing her hands over the ham problem, debating whether it was better to offend Nanna or run the risk of rampant food poisoning. I heard her share the story with every friend and acquaintance she encountered, seeking guidance as she sought to settle this thorny issue.

When we got to Nanna’s house Mom found the ham sitting out on the counter, even though Nanna had promised her that it was living a life of germless seclusion in the fridge. Right then and there, Mom swore to herself that this dubious entrée would never reach the table.

In the end, we staged a deception. I snuck our ham out into the windy darkness of the back porch and arranged it on the platter, while Nanna’s ham was hidden in a little-used mini-fridge until after she left.

She never noticed.

As it turns out, Nanna’s food is considered less trustworthy than a dish of entirely unknown origin. I discovered this during dessert, when Mom asked me to pass her the banana pudding.

“Where did this come from?” I asked, since I couldn’t remember any of the relatives bringing it over.

“Someone named Steve,” she said, shrugging. And then, seeing that I clearly expected more, “I think he’s short and fat.”

And that was it. Apparently eating banana pudding from the mysterious Steve was okay, but consuming Nanna’s ham was not.


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