by Luke Robinson
There are many timeless symbols of welcome around the world. Handshakes, hugs, high -fives and European cheek-kisses are all pretty popular. Pineapples are also a universal denotation of greeting. Historically, water and doves are signs of peace, graciousness and hospitality.
Also, doormats with ‘Welcome’ written on them work OK.
In the South, we have our own way of welcoming: We use food. More specifically, casseroles.
You know, because nothing says, “We are so dang glad to have y’all move into our l’il ol’ neighborhood” like a glass dish filled with a potpourri of cheese, green beans and grease topped with a Ritz Cracker crust. Southerners’ bringing casseroles to new neighbors is as traditional as having deviled eggs at a wake before the funeral.
The gesture is a great idea; taking food as a buffer to meet the newbies is the ultimate sign of ‘welcome’. People can differ on politics or football teams, but we all have to eat. Casseroles can be a conversation starter which just may lead to ….(sniff, sniff)….a beautiful friendship! Before you know it, you and the new husband will be swapping lawn equipment, grilling tips and- if you are into this sorta thing- spouses.
We have all given been given a casserole before. Sometimes we have cheerfully eaten them. Other times we have immediately scraped the foul-smelling concoction straight into the large green garbage bin for fear that the stench would haunt the house to the point of selling it below market value.
Of course, if we did discard the runny mixture, we kept the dish an extra day or two to make the giver THINK we ate it. That’s only proper.
But what if I told you I knew first hand of a different casserole scenario. A “casserolenario”, if you will.
This story has a very unique, very un-Southern ending. (To protect the innocent AND the guilty, I am leaving out the “who” and “where”, but trust me: this happened.)
One day, many years ago, a couple from WAYYYyyyyyyy up north moved into an upscale- yet quaint- Alabama community. The current residents were, of course, anxious to meet the new neighbors.
One such resident was especially excited. She loved to cook and it’s not very often you get to use your holiday casserole dish on a non-holiday, right?
“Time to greet the soon-to-be friends with open arms and culinary goodness!”, she thought.
So, all morning this friendly neighbor mixed and crunched and baked and garnished. She planned the dish’s preparation to coordinate with a time she KNEW the new neighbors would be home. It was imperative to keep the baked delight hot-n- fresh so as to go from her loving kitchen straight into their grateful gullets.
She carefully removed the dish from the oven and, with her hands protected from the fiery-hot glass by cumbersome mitts, she pridefully walked approximately 150 yards to the neighbor’s door.
(I have to assume she paused and thought to herself, “I am a REALLY good person and I cannot wait to see the tears of gratitude in this couple’s eyes.”)
She rang the doorbell, took a deep breath and silently practiced her greetings.
The door opened, and Mr. (name redacted) looked at her as she smiled.
Neither of them noticed how the weight of the casserole probably made her arms tremble just a bit.
There was a slight awkward pause until she broke the silence with a twangy, ‘HiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiIiiii…. Welcome to (location redacted)!”
Then, oddly, another pause until the new neighbor finally says (very matter-of-factly), “Hello. May I help you?”
She gives a wide-eyed smirk of surprise, shakes off the less-than-welcoming greeting and says, “Wellllllll….(she then extends the casserole dish towards him)… I brought you a little something for dinner to welcome you to our neighborhood!”
He looked at the dish and back at her and eventually back at the dish. Without so much as looking up again, the man says, “Hmmmm… Well….I don’t eat casseroles.”
After a new neighbor says something like that, you’d THINK the next scene would be his slamming the door right in her face. I mean, if you are going to be rude, be REAL rude. However, he instead looked up and peered right into the lady’s eyes piercing her Southern soul.
Not in an evil way, mind you. Not in a hateful way. Not even in an ungrateful way. More in a “this gesture makes no sense to me” type of way.
THAT’S when he shut the door…… Slowly.
Now there was Mrs. (name redacted) standing at his doorstep in disbelief. Her mouth agape and her head lowered like Charlie Brown’s after having the football yanked away at the last second by Lucy.
The 150-yard walk from his driveway to her door seemed more like a 150-mile trek on the return trip as she toted the now lukewarm casserole back to its home of origin. NOW she could feel her arms shaking underneath the dish’s mass (it’s a scientific FACT that casseroles get heavier as they cool).
She was like a Southern Sisyphus: Stuck in Hades pushing a boulder up a hill for all eternity. Only her boulder was made mostly from stuff she bought at Piggly Wiggly.
The morale of this story is…. Well, there is no morale, really. Even though the guy was out-of-bounds with his rudeness, I don’t like casseroles either so I kinda get where he’s coming from.
Luke is a host for the University of Alabama’s Coaches Cabana webcast, an AHSAA Radio Network team member, and a Sportzblitz TV/radio personality and blogger for Crimson Country Club.