Comfort at a Difficult Time …
For as long as I can remember, whenever a family in our Mt. Pleasant neighborhood had a loss of a loved one, my mother would go full blown into her making “The Death Dinner.” I would always help her.
First she would prepare a baked ham with pineapples, cherries inside the pineapple rings and dotted with cloves. The next step was to doctor up canned B & M Baked beans. This was her foolproof trick. She was very proud of. It consisted of adding a large chunk of salt pork, chopped onions and dry mustard, with three tablespoons of molasses. Worked like a charm. No one seemed to have a clue that they were fake.
Then she would give me change to go to the bakery on Chalkstone Avenue to get a loaf of rye bread. She explained the reasoning behind it was that the family could make a quick sandwich if they preferred. Oh, and of course a small jar of mustard in case there wasn’t any in the house.
The final step was to bake a four-layer Devil’s Food Cake.
I was always in awe of her precision cutting the two layers into four with a long piece of thread. Then the layers were separated with filling made from Crisco and powdered sugar. Then the cake was frosted with chocolate frosting. topped with walnut halves.
The ritual never changed. She would box up the ham, beans and bread a I had the honor of carrying the cake. I always had to wear a Sunday dress with Mary Jane’s with white ankle socks.This ceremonial process carried on forever
Right after I married one of my coworker’s father died, I automatically went into making the Death Dinner.
I never could figure out the importance of how comforting this was until I was much older.
I remember when one of best friend’s father died, dinner in hand, rang the doorbell and his son answered and said his father wasn’t seeing anyone. I walked right in and not only was my friend and his wife glad to see me, I realized they hadn’t eaten anything all day. I proceeded to make a dish for them and their two sons. They devoured it.
Whenever I do this, I am always thankful to my benevolent mother for teaching me such a life lesson on caring for persons in a time of need.
By the way, she was not a ‘stay-at-home’ Mom. After she fed her family at six PM, she went to work until midnight at the telephone company as a long distance operator!
When my husband died, one of my best friends brought me the death dinner.
We actually had a little chuckle over it. She said she didn’t expect me to make my own.