I went out of my way yesterday to buy some ham salad at the HoneyBaked Ham store up on North Ashland Avenue. I guess it was a bit of a birthday present to myself in honor of my late mother, who made excellent ham salad.
I first noticed HoneyBaked Ham sold ham salad when I was waiting in one of those snake-lines at Easter one year. I had never had decent ham salad from any deli counter at any grocery store but figured I'd give it one last shot. (My oldest brother asked me recently why I didn't just get a cast-iron meat grinder like the one my mom had and make it myself. Is he kidding? What's next, sew my own clothes?)
For the record, HoneyBaked ham salad is pretty darn good -- almost as good as my mom's. Heresy! I'm pretty sure I got the last package in the store and the guy ringing me up looked at me as if to say, I always wondered who ate that stuff. Who knows how long it had actually been sitting in that case, but as my sister-in-law pointed out to me: ham and mayonnaise -- don't they both have the shelf life of a Twinkie? (Now the store manager has to call up headquarters and order another package. "Hey, we finally sold the only one we had; can you believe it?")
Twinkies, Oscar Mayer bologna (or "baloney," as we called it), Fritos, liver sausage -- those were the staples in my lunch bag growing up.
(I once won a gift certificate to Les Nomades, a swanky French restaurant in Streeterville. One of the guys at the Merc who liked to think of himself as having a sophisticated palate sniffed, "I bet you were the only one in there who'd had a bologna sandwich for lunch!" He was probably right.)
I also bought some liver sausage at Mariano's yesterday. As I told my sister-in-law, my mother was surely the only person in America who served it on rye with mayonnaise. Woody Allen would have been horrified! (I still like it that way. It gets me some funny looks, but if there's one thing I'm used to it's funny looks.)
But that actually brings up a few of my mother's faults. She had only three that immediately come to mind. Other than that, she was pretty much perfect. Really.
The first was that, unlike the clip above from the 1986 movie Hannah and Her Sisters, my mom bought something called Miracle Whip instead of real mayonnaise. (But also unlike the clip, my mother served Pepperidge Farm white bread instead of Wonder Bread, which was a big improvement in case you didn't know. By the way, one of my many nicknames at the Merc was "White Bread" -- seriously! Most of the others are unprintable in a "family" blog.)
Her second fault was that she insisted on buying that cheap Scott Tissue instead of something more luxurious, like Quilted Northern, which I treat myself to as an adult. In case you're not familiar with Scott Tissue it's about a notch below the stuff they put in the public restrooms at Union Station. It's still a notch above newspaper, though, I suppose.
(A corollary to this fault was that my mom also loaded the toilet paper, or "bathroom tissue" as the commercials call it, so that you had to reach all the way under to get at it instead of having it come over the top like I do. Much better.)
My mom's third fault is actually a real one, and it's too soon to get into that.
I've been promising myself to write an obituary for my mother similar to the one I wrote after my father died in 2010. I'm having trouble getting started for some reason. Maybe it's because my brother already did such a good job himself. But I'd still like to get at exactly who my mom was to me. Maybe this is a start.
Oh, and the ham salad? It was delicious.