Oyster Dressing

We are re-creations of those who have raised us. Sometimes we don’t want to admit it, because we fool ourselves into thinking we’ve evolved to a higher form of social sophistication and coolness, but it’s true. After all, Uncle Millard wore black socks in the summer that, coupled with his, Hush Puppies, Bermuda shorts and white legs, made you wonder how you could be from the same lineage? And now, decades later, you find yourself displaying the same kind of pitiful-looking white legs rising out from a pair of black socks. The Bermuda shorts have disappeared simply because you can’t find a pair in your size at Kohl’s.

Re-creations, yes we are!

When I was growing up, my mom made oyster dressing every Thanksgiving. It was a part of our family meal, served Thanksgiving afternoon soon after the Macy’s Parade had ended. I thought oyster dressing was as much a part of everyone’s Thanksgiving meal as sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and the turkey. It was one of the signs of how blessed we were, the only time during the whole year when we had oysters in any kind of dish.

So now when I mention the possibility of oyster dressing to my family, I’m astonished at their looks of indifference and dismay, as if I’ve just appeared in the dining room in my Uncle Millard’s dress attire. They don’t understand my fascination with oyster dressing, the connection it holds to my Eastern Kentucky Helton family roots.

A few days ago I was at the grocery store to get hot dog buns and check on the price of bottled A&W Root Beer. I decided to take a wide turn by the seafood counter, wondering if oysters might be an available item. After all, I live in Colorado, not New Orleans. Oysters don’t grow on trees, don’t you know! My eyes danced past the sardines, over-priced smoked salmon, and shrimp until they landed on a six-ounce tin of oysters. The price was only $8.99, and there must have been at least five, maybe six, of the slimy captives in there. I could hear my mom’s voice saying to my dad as he was about to climb into our ’66 Chrysler Newport and embark on a trip to Big Bear Supermarket in Marietta, Ohio, “Laurence, don’t forget the oysters.” It was, as if, she was talking to me, beckoning me to reconnect with the ways of the past, the customs of our clan.

I picked up the tin. It was actually plastic, which didn’t seem right. The Thanksgiving oysters of the 60s were always in a tin. The plastic balanced itself in my hand, extremely light, I thought, for nine bucks. Should I or shouldn’t I? Relive what was or be sensible about what is? I turned the container to the side and peered through. Like a goldfish in an aquarium, I swear an oyster’s eye stared back at me. Do oysters even have eyes? This one did! Kinda creeped me out, that’s what it did!

And then I remembered…our freezer, which would have to be the residence for this container for a couple of days, was jam-packed with other necessities of life, like a frozen chocolate cream pie, a gallon of Blue Bell ice cream, chicken breasts, and egg rolls. There would be no place to put the Helton Clan oysters. As the eye kept staring at me, I gently placed the container back in the case and lamented the loss of a tradition.

Although they aren’t nearly as exciting and I hold no infatuation about them, hot dog buns don’t stare at you. So I headed to the bread aisle. I felt like everyone was looking at me, disappointment in their expressions, and shaking their heads at my betrayal . I looked down just to make sure I wasn’t wearing Hush Puppies, black socks, and blinding people with the ghost-like whiteness of my legs, as I picked up a package of buns for $1.19.

We’re re-creations of who raised us, yes we are, but sometimes it’s best to cherish the memories and just move on to the bread aisle.

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