Memorial Day Memories

by Maryjane Mojer
Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm

When I was growing up on Nantucket, Memorial Day was not just a sign that school was almost over (it was) or that summer was just beginning (because at 8, summer actually was, I believed, Memorial Day to Labor Day). Memorial Day was very clearly an occasion meant to be celebrated, time to be shared with friends and family. Picking lilacs to take up to the cemetery, marching with my Brownie troop, then in the High School Marching Band, then as a Majorette. This weekend was and is a turning point for the island in so many ways.

Celebrating the weekend by gathering, eating, taking a breath before the season begins is a given.

Memorial Day | Nantucket, MA

For my family, Memorial Day was usually the first of three or four of my Mom’s epic summer cookouts. Just inviting family would have filled the back yard on Pleasant Street. Mom went big. It was not at all unusual for one of her cookouts to have 150 guests, give or take. More often than not, there would be someone that no one knew; either a Coast Guard kid who had just arrived and had wandered into the Town Clerk’s office asking for directions, or someone who found her office before finding the Information Bureau. Mom thought nothing of handing over her car keys and loaning someone… anyone….her car for the day. “Just bring the keys back and tell me where you’ve parked it. I’ll need it back by 4:00.”

For the cookouts, we would slice and dice for days. There were two refrigerators; one in the garage (Harvest Gold) and the new one in the kitchen (Avocado Green, which matched the stove and the dishwasher.)

For the parties, Dad’s beer was relegated to several coolers next to a large, 10’ x 10’ staging table that was a permanent fixture in the back yard. I believe that my Dad and brother had built it as a performance stage for my brother’s band, The Fifth Shade of Blue. It never made it out of the yard, but sure came in handy for so many things.

Throughout the yard, tables of various sizes would appear. Any chair, folding or otherwise, within a 100-yard radius was commandeered. Chances were that the owners would be in attendance anyway, so it was usually a BYO-Chair event.

The bar would be set up on one side of the large table: Seven & Seven, always a crowd favorite, along with Diet Coke and Rum for some, and coolers of beer. Seems to me it was always cans of Bud. How many of us still bare the scars of stepping on the haphazardly discarded tabs?

I don’t recall a single party that was rained out. Not one. I also don’t recall any wine at these events, unless my Uncle Robert was in town. No cell phones, no iPod for music. In fact, except for a late night rendering of Danny Boy or How are things in Glocca Morra by the Knotty Pines crew, I don’t remember music at all.

The cookouts were always planned for Saturday nights, starting at 5, though folks always started wandering in…and out….around 3. Sunday was not a rest day, however—Sunday was cleaning and dump runs.

I believe that every Chief of Police in the 60s, 70s and early 80s was a guest at one time or another. Wendell Howes was a neighbor and good friend. Anthony Hopfinger and Randy Norris as well, along with the summer officers who either rented rooms or dated someone who rented a room from Mom. Her 51 Pleasant Street Rooms sign hangs in my house now. Twenty five dollars a week for room and board, and she’d do your laundry, too.

As for the menu: always simple, always good, and always more than enough. There were standards, of course. Great steaming pots of corn on the cob, boiled with a splash of milk and a spoonful of sugar, left on the big table next to Chinette paper plates with sticks of butter to drag your corn through after helping yourself. A huge tossed salad, Uncle Jack’s baked beans with Linquicia (Gaspars from Rebimbas’s, of course.) Triscuits and Ritz with slices of cheddar, Havarti, Jack, and Meunster…though Colby was added after my sister moved to Wisconsin. Wise potato chips and big bowls of onion dip. For meats there were always hot dogs, burgers, linquicia and blade steaks.

Blade steaks, also known as Flat Iron steaks, are a really delicious, very underutilized cut. Most likely because of the big, gristly bit that runs right up the middle, but the flavor is beefy. Mom would get several, and marinate them in Good Seasons Italian Dressing in big, deep stainless pans for a few days before hand.

Regardless of season, Mom would always make her Macaroni and Cheese. This is great hot or cold or room temp. The wording here is directly from Mom’s handwritten recipe. Her writing was really beautiful!

2 16 oz packages elbow macaroni, cooked following directions on box
1 and 1/2lbs Sharp Cheddar Cheese (Mom liked Vermont Cheddar best.)
2 sticks of butter
1 pint of half and half
1 can evaporated milk
1 cup milk
Mix cheese, butter and milks together, heating until cheese melts
Add garlic, sliced very thin, or garlic powder (either two cloves garlic or one
teaspoon Garlic powder,
Stir into cooked and drained macaroni.
Take 1 1/2 cups of corn flakes, put in plastic bag, seal and crush with hands or
a rolling pin.
Spread on top and sprinkle with paprika
Bake at 400 degrees until bubbly and light brown
Mmmm good!

One of her most requested recipes was for her Easy Dump Cake. I’ve
looked it up, but none of them are written the way she made it, so here goes!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray a 9 x 13” pan
Pour in (Or “dump in”)
1 box of yellow cake mix…dry
Pour 1 stick of butter, melted, over cake mix
Top with 1 can of Blueberry Pie filling
Top with 1 can of chopped pineapple, juice and all
Top with 1 cup of shredded coconut
Top with 1 cup of chopped walnuts
Bake for 35 minutes until bubbly and brown.
Serve with Vanilla Ice Cream.

There are so very many changes in our world on a daily basis. Some good, some challenging. Remembering the simple joys and why we celebrate certain occasions is so very important. The reverence and importance Memorial Day gets lost in the madness at times. Here’s to remembering why we celebrate! Cheers!