No Matter The Menu, Wertheimer's New Mexico Family Comes To The Table

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My memories of Christmas growing up in New Mexico have grown rosier over the years: lots of lights on all our houses, a neighborhood across the Pecos River from us — which lined all the sidewalks and porches with Luminarias, candles in paper sack lanterns — we would drive over to look. Church services — including midnight mass at the Episcopal church — not our church but we went anyway. And of course food, starting with Christmas baking. My mother's bourbon-soaked fruitcake was famous.

Food was also the reason for most of the Christmas fights we had.

My mother, like other women in the '50s, read Good Housekeeping and Ladies Home Journal and found new holiday dishes she wanted to try. Our family rebelled. We only wanted the good old stuff. The menu was roast turkey with cornbread stuffing, two kinds of cranberry sauce, gravy that always had boiled eggs in it, sweet potatoes, green beans and heavenly yeasty-smelling Parker House Rolls. My Aunt Mildred always made the case for mashed potatoes, my mother always dismissed her — one more mushy thing on the table.

Once or twice we had roast beef. My dad had a grocery store and if a customer wanted our family turkey, he sold it to them. That brought fights and tears, especially from my sister who felt it wasn't fair. But daddy refused to get a turkey from another grocery store.

I learned from other aunts that the our traditional holiday menu was the result of a number of roundhouse battles between my mother and my grandmother. My grandmother was very strong willed, and always got what she wanted. My mother lost all those arguments, but when she had her own table, she served her own holiday dinner.

And when I had my own table, I changed things. I put spicy sausage in the cornbread stuffing and mashed the sweet potatoes. When my husband asked for green beans with fried onions on top, I flatly rejected the onions and eventually switched to collard greens.

But then my sister and her family came to us for Christmas. You know what happened then.

But don't think that food fights ended in refusing to eat together. We are all good cooks and love to eat and we always came to the table. Plus my mother invented a grand compromise, which generally saved the day. She always checked with everybody coming to ask about their favorite dessert. And on the day, she served all of them.

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