When the Fritos atop the seven layer salad go soggy, it’s time to throw the leftovers out.
If you’re stingy you can save the pinto beans a little longer, to savor them in their tangy Ranch dressing and green onion marinade. But this is more trouble than it’s worth: by Day 2 the guacamole is brown, the tomatoes are leaking light pink juice at an alarming rate, and the shredded lettuce is reduced to noodles.
For these reasons, seven layer salad is exempt from the normal progression of leftovers into smaller and smaller containers so the puzzle that is Grandma’s refrigerator can accommodate the new: hot tamales brought from deep freeze to thaw; a gallon of 2 percent milk to be drunk with the cherry pie she made just because.
Thanksgiving 2007 was the first time we saw Grandma after she’d been diagnosed with cancer. She’d had radiation treatment to attack the cancer in her throat. It was successful, but it took away her taste for food and it left a sunburn on her neck. For Ivan and me and our then 2-year-old daughter Camilla, she made a knockout dinner anyway, including seven layer salad, and sat with us to enjoy it the best she could.
The next Thanksgiving Bonnie and Jason, my sister and brother-in-law from Texas, along with their dogs Speck and Sweetie, joined us at Grandma’s home in Rosedale, Oklahoma. Bonnie and I had lost our dad’s father, Grandaddy Hord, that May. I had lost a pregnancy in October. Grandma had gone through surgery for new cancers and at least one round of chemo.
After the leftovers from that dinner were foil-wrapped and all cozy next to the jars of jalapeño-pickled okra and other condiments that lined the fridge door, Grandma brought out the wine.
Neither she nor Grandpa were wine drinkers, really, but they bought a bottle or two each time they passed through Arkansas to see me and my family when we lived in Virginia from 1982-2007. They came for graduations and weddings as well as a few Christmases.
Arkansas’ viticultural region is in the western part of the state, concentrated near the Ozark town of Altus. Winemakers there use North American varietals such as Niagara and muscadine; Grandma and Grandpa also had Arkansas rieslings and some other whites in their modest collection. The bottles were stored in cupboards below the counter where my sisters and I used to color in Grandma’s Wizard of Oz coloring books and our cousin Brian perfected his drawings of E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial.
When my parents retired and started spending more time in Oklahoma, they decided to get those wines out and see if any were still good after 10-15 years under the counter. They found the corks were gunpowder dry but most of the wine was still drinkable, even though it had changed color from straw-yellow to amber. Mom and Dad shared several bottles with Grandma over a series of visits from their Colorado Springs home to visit with and care for her during 2008 and 2009. Mom reported that there were also several bottles of champagne, “given to them, I think, at their various Navy reunions. We chose not to try any of those, since champagne doesn’t age as well!”
I’m glad Grandma got that wine out of its nook under the Coloring Counter to share with Bonnie and Jason and Ivan and me. It’s probably better for her that her taste buds were already shot. Still, it adds a lot to my last memories of her.
Margaret Mary Dollar Cavnar (known to most as Peggy, Peg, Aunt Peg, or Grandma, born October 2 1923) died three years ago this week, on July 17, 2009. Here are some photos of her; of Grandpa, Wesley R. Cavnar (1921-2003); and their home in McClain Co, OK.