A version of this story can be found in the book: Exploding Hushpuppies More Stories from Home.
I’ve discovered you can tell a lot about a person by their reaction to a punchbowl. Like a deviled egg plate or a good dog, most Southern families own one, and most know how to sip from the tiny cups and not dip it back into the bowl and slosh out another serving like a hog drinking from its trough. Punchbowls usually spend most of the year on top of the extra refrigerator in the laundry room, but when we need them, they are ready for action.
Our parties are as varied as we are. We host shindigs, soirees, hoedowns and the occasional hootenanny — which often begins as an innocent Bunco game, but switches gears when Mara Mae wants to show everyone pictures of her ex’s new wife and someone realizes it’s their old sorority sister. Suddenly, your neighbor is standing on a chair pantomiming something that happened in Gulf Shores in 1986, and it all goes downhill from there. That’s a hootenanny, and no punchbowl is required.
We can have formal balls, elegant dinners beneath the oaks and even small-home baby showers with crepe paper streamers, but the level of frivolity of them all gets bumped-up a notch when you pull out your punch bowl. People go crazy over the diminuative cups and most appreciate that you’ve color coordinated the punch to match your décor. Of course, there’s no need to say it, because you already know, if it’s a wedding reception, you match the punch to the bridesmaid’s dresses — if this is news to you, let me take this opportunity to welcome you to the South.
I pulled out my old church cookbook, because I needed a recipe for those who may be, “weak for the drink” and the only version I found that looked good was actually submitted by a good friend, Mrs. Hayes, but it was for a crowd of 150. I didn’t feel like doing the math to scale it down to only 35, so I went to the next cookbook that was sure to have an appropriate clean-as-a-whistle recipe, “Baptist Dishes Worth Blessing” copyrighted 1978 by The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Can’t go wrong with that. There are some punch and casserole queens in that book.
I selected an entry by Mrs. Melvin J. Poole (Linda), which was perfect. Lime punch would match my Christmas table, and I already had lime Jell-O on my Jell-O shelf, but then again, who doesn’t?
I froze a portion of the punch in a little ring, with bright red cherries dotting the top. If I needed a talent for a beauty pageant, I just might stand on stage and plop an ice mold into a big batch of punch. Ta-da! I’m that good at it.
We can have soirees that serve cold crisp water or hot hard hooch, but when you pull out the punch bowl, you add an air of dignity to the event. It’s like having your grandmother walk into the room. People stand up straighter, use their indoor voices and men remove their hats.
No wonder punch bowls are used for cotillion dances. It calms all the goofy 7th graders down and forces them to practice the most civilized opening line ever, “Would you care for some punch?”
This story first appeared on AL.com and in the Mobile Press-Register, Birmingham News and Huntsville Times.