Every Thanksgiving my grandma sprinkled paprika on top of the mashed potatoes before she handed the bowl to my grandpa to pass around the large table set up in their living room. By the time the bowl reached me on the opposite counter-clockwise end of the long wooden table there usually wasn’t any paprika left because the top layer was gone. When I did get a sampling of the spice on my potatoes it seemed flavorless to me, so it struck me as an uncharacteristically frivolous thing for my German Minnesotan grandma to do when the potato presentation could not be appreciated for long. Yet, year after year, the Thanksgiving mashed potatoes were decorated with a splash of paprika.
I didn’t realize until I was an adult, starting my own holiday traditions for my family, that paprika was probably a reflection of Grandma’s feelings for her children and grandchildren. As a hardworking farm woman, my grandma’s life was ruled by routine and she prepared potatoes daily. But holidays may have been her opportunity to sprinkle a fleeting dash of color into her routine to celebrate the important things in life. On rare occasions, if I happened to be in the kitchen instead of seated at the table when it came time to sprinkle the paprika, I loved watching Grandma put the finishing touches on the perfectly mashed potatoes. It seemed to be her “ta-da” moment. And then she handed the bowl to Grandpa and the assembly line process of passing bowls and platters of food around the table to gorge on began.
Even though I sat toward the end of the line of roughly twenty family members when I was younger, I never worried if there would be food left for me. Grandma and Grandpa were always generous with the food supply 365 days a year, and nobody ever left their table wanting for anything. As our family grew, Grandma and Grandpa set up another long table in the family room and the bowls and platters continued to be bottomless.
As a child I was thankful for the abundance of perfectly prepared food at Grandma and Grandpa’s house to satisfy my stomach on Thanksgiving and other holidays. As an adult I’m thankful for the message that having the entire family under one roof was a reason to celebrate by doing something a little different. With a glass of Mogen David for each of us and a bowlful of decorated paprika potatoes, Grandma was letting us know how much we meant to her.
I wish everyone could have some paprika splashed on their life.
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© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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