Friday, February 20, 2015

Pouring Gravy on the Harlem Globetrotters

Thanksgiving is the most stressful holiday of the year. All other holidays are set
All done perfectly, at exactly the same time.
in a given set of time. A night, A night and a morning, 8 nights, that sort of thing. Thanksgiving though is all about one moment: The moment when dinner is served. 

And all 17 dishes better be done, perfectly, on time, so that one exquisite moment isn't ruined. Its a sobering occasion for the best cooks - and my Mother was not the best cook.

But her Mother was! And oh, the tension and drama that that fact occasioned. Grandma Johnson cooking was like an episode of Iron Chef. Carolyn in the kitchen was more like Mythbusters.

But one year, Mom had had enough. 1972 was going to be the year where she did more than host Thanksgiving. '72 was the year where my Mother would make......THE GRAVY.

Mmmm.....the "other" things in a turkey.
And she set about it with steely-eyed preparation. First, she banned all of us from the kitchen. My sister and Dad and Me and the dogs just happily watched bowl games for 3 days and nights while Mom boiled and stewed Turkey unmentionables like she was mixing up plague vaccine for some stricken Head of State.

She added other ingredients like they were unstable plutonium. Mom did allow us to clean the house and set the table on Thursday, but mostly we just saw the back of her as she hunched over the big, bubbling stew pot on the stove. 

But she did keep one eye on the clock. Her big scene was fast approaching. With a half hour before the hordes arrived (including Grand Chef Grandma), the gravy was done. Complete. Perfect. All she had to do was get all the bones and gizzards and what-not out of her precious elixir.

And the best way to do that was with a colander. She grabbed one, put it in the sink, and quickly, carefully, poured all of her priceless gravy into it.


The gravy covers many secrets.
Mom stared at the bare bones for a long moment, drying there in the now empty colander. Then she burst into quiet tears, grabbed her coat and raced off to the store. 

She bought 8 cans of Campbell's turkey gravy, heated them up in a jiffy in the same soup pot, and had it all ready by the time the company arrived and The Moment was at hand.

We all oohed and aahed over her “homemade” gravy, even Grandma, and my Mother accepted our compliments with humility, shrugs and a small smile.

5 years later - the statute of limitations in our family - she confessed how she had celebrated her stupendous gravy by immediately pouring it all down the sink. 

And we all laughed, but not as loud as she laughed at herself.

The Harlem Globetrotters

My parents, two of their friends and all three of us kids went to see the Harlem
The Latham Family in 1968.
Globetrotters in the winter of 1970. It was cold and raining in L.A. that night, so we all had our jackets with us.

The game was at the old Long Beach Arena, a huge, humid barn of a building with just one long tier of creaking wooden bleachers from the floor all the way up, 100 yards to the back wall of the building.

This is where the concessions were, and this is where we dispatched Mom to go get all of us snowcones, because it was very hot in the arena, which was filled to its capacity of 13,000.

In retrospect this had Obvious Disaster written all over it. But I claim innocence, or at least abstention, as I was only 5 at the time. 

Carolyn purchased 7 rainbow snowcones, which were put in a wide, cardboard drink carrier. She made it to the first step okay, and then the humidity caused her to lose her footing, both of which shot out in front of her, and down she went, bouncing on her butt, still desperately trying to salvage the snowcones.

The Globetrotters, early 1970's.
But no, as she gained speed on the steep slope, she tumbled sideways and the rainbow snowcones lived up to their names as they all shot out in a wide array of colorful arcs across the arena, nailing fans left right and center.

And down she came, all arms, legs and screams, with people diving back into the rows of seats to get out of her way. She passed by our row with a strangled yelp, and I remember my Dad calmly but literally facepalming himself.

Soon she was going so fast she was missing one, two, three steps at a time, bouncing higher and higher. She hit the arena floor with a solid thud, clearly audible over the suddenly silent auditorium.
My Mother's steep slope straight to infamy.

Her momentum though caused her to bounce high, and with an wildly undulating banshee wail she flew slowly over the Washington Generals bench, and then skidded out into the middle of the basketball court, where the game was still going on.

Once she came to an inglorious face-first stop the entire arena erupted into gales of laughter, thinking this was part of the show.

Marques Haynes,
ducking out of the way of my Mom.
My bruised and contused Mother slowly rolled over, blinked a few times and found herself looking up into the faces of Meadowlark Lemon, Curly Neal, Geese Ausbie and the rest of the team, all of whom were bent over her, dripping sweat on her and laughing uncontrollably. 

She noted that Curly was still dribbling the ball.

Then she realized where she was, and what had happened, and she leapt to her feet and ran off the court the other way, hurdling Coach Marques Haynes and the rest of the Globetrotters bench and running all the way up the bleachers on the other side of the arena.

When my Mother finally reappeared at the end of our row, with a torn dress, a beehive hairdo like the leaning tower of Pisa, and the replacement snowcones, she herself finally busted out laughing, because all of us now had our jackets over our heads. 

Angus McMahan

(Pics from:,,, Authors collection,,,, )

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