As president, Etta Mae Czerny was in charge of the Christian Women’s Club spring salad luncheon. Though church dinners began filling community calendars right after Easter, the word on the street in this small town was that the CWC luncheon was the best.
Etta Mae took credit for the stellar reputation. Described as hefty and determined, she was proud of her position. She had apprenticed with Mable Johnson for years and when Mable died, not one of the other 36 ladies dared question Etta Mae’s succession. This year’s date—April 22—marked her ninth time to reign as “salad queen,” a nickname given to her in a barely audible mumble during a committee meeting.
The luncheon, the only money maker for the club, was the most important event of the year. Proceeds were divided in half; half going to starving children in Africa and the other half going into the CWC checking account for club needs.
Etta Mae already had a list that she tried to present at the January club meeting. “We need another 100-cup coffee pot,” she announced. “The garbage disposal isn’t working right, and …”
“Wait just a minute,” a familiar voice interrupted. “I thought we already decided to put all the money into an additional refrigerator. Remember? Last year we ran out of Jell-o space.”
Etta Mae stood up from her place at the table to stop the conversations erupting between members. Ethel, who didn’t pay any attention to Etta Mae’s imposing figure, raised her voice several decibels and continued her challenge. “You know, each year more tickets are sold, more salads need to be prepared, and more refrig …”
“Stop!’ Etta Mae slapped her hands on the table in front of her. “Stop! Stop it!”
The women, easily cowed into submission by their president’s anger, sat silent and waited for her to establish order as usual. “Ethel. You and I will talk about this privately.
For now, this meeting is adjourned.”
Of course, the grape vine hummed for an hour after the women got home.
“Did you see Etta Mae’s face?”
“Yes. She was almost purple. Her lips were quivering.”
“She never did like her sister-in-law.”
“What happened between them?”
“I don’t know. Maybe she didn’t want her brother remarrying.”
“I heard Etta Mae still sees his ex-wife regularly.”
In February, following the tried and true luncheon procedures, Etta Mae hand-picked three other women to meet with her to find new salads for the April event. Jell-o recipes had been collected through the year and the small committee would sort through dozens of possible options for the April luncheon. Dietary issues re: lactose intolerance or celiac disease weren’t on the social radar yet. Though Ethel had been included in prior years, Etta Mae refused to invite her to this blue-ribbon meeting.
There were always seven salads, two of which—a chicken and a tuna—appeared every year. The women were careful in their choices of the additional five. Not all one color. Not too much cream cheese. Watch out for fresh pineapple because the Jell-o won’t set. After a hour of debate and Etta Mae’s agreement, each woman took two or three recipes home to prepare them for a tasting and voting meeting the following week.
Again with Etta Mae’s strong opinions, the women chose five new entrees that would be a variety of colors and flavors and would go well with the traditional tuna and chicken. Except for the chicken salad, which would be served in cut glass bowls, the other delights would be prepared in the copper molds that were stored in boxes on the top shelf of the closet nearest the women’s restroom. This year, the Fish mold for tuna (as usual), Star shape for cran-raspberry, Ring mold for lime pear pecan, Round for strawberry fluff, Oval for orange buttermilk, and Skirt for seven layer. Also stored with the molds were two dozen plastic Barbie-like dolls that would be placed in the center of each skirt salad.
Work continued through February and March. The Gestetner in the church office clunkety-clunked the printed tickets, announcements to be taken to nearby churches and detailed recipes to be distributed to the salad-making club members.
Etta Mae’s directions were scrolled across the top of the stenciled sheet in capital letters: USE EXACT INGREDIENTS. DO NOT SUBSTITUTE.
Everything seemed in order a week before the big event. For the hundredth time Etta Mae checked her list. Molds were distributed. Salads to feed 350 people were promised. And the lists
of volunteers to set up, serve, and clean-up were filled.
Etta Mae was pleased. What could go wrong?