Is That Tabasco in Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me?
When my mister and I moved into our first apartment, we had that one drawer in the kitchen where we kept our stash of ketchup packets. When we had enough money for cheap Chinese take-out, we’d add duck, sweet & sour, and hot sauce to the mix. I coveted Arby sauce. I wasn’t above going into an Arby’s just to grab a handful of the sauce packets. That’s crossing the condiment gathering line, I know, but I really loved Arby’s back then. Sometimes, you just can’t reconcile the slight of hand behind grabbing extra condiments, y’all.
I worked the night shift at Waffle House, so I came home with a few jelly and syrup packs in my apron a couple times a week. All those condiments meant we could make a loaf of bread, a pack of ramen, and a couple chicken thighs mighty tasty. My love affair with restaurant sized condiments goes back further than college.
My grandmother on my mother’s side taught me well. She was notorious for stripping a table. All the sweeteners went into her pocketbook, followed by any jams or jellies, and then, the little sealed cups of non-dairy creamer. She always asked for crackers, no matter what she was having. Those crackers went right into her pocketbook as well. Sweet Jesus, don’t even get me started on the peppermint and butterscotch she took from the dish at the cash register!
Grandmom was diabetic. Her pocketbook was a scary wonderland of candies and insulin. She grew up during the depression. To her, all those little extras on the table in restaurants were gonna go to waste. She scooped them all up. I watched. I helped. I learned.
Over the years, I’ve had to reconcile my childhood condiment thievery and my college years of condiment abuse. I gotta tell y’all it’s bad up in the Chick-Fil-A. They have so.much.good stuff! It’s a smorgasbord of awesomeness and my Grandmom just comes out in me, but I temper it on accounta I know it’s not okay to take all of the of Chick-Fil-A’s ketchup packs, even though they have the good ones. I just get two more packs of ketchup than I need, plus all the sauces. Don’t judge me. Or do. I fucking love condiments.
When the middle-Little and I were in Los Angeles, staying at the swanky Beverly Hilton, it was like I died and went to condiment heaven. Like most hotels, sauces and such came in fabulous little bottles and jars. They were just so generous with them. The tragedy was, I wasn’t given enough opportunity to get these treasures. With my Grandmom looking down from Heaven with great pride and the middle-Little looking on in total horror, I would stop at all the room service trays on the floor in our hall. I’d check to see if there were any sealed condiment jars and I’d swoop those babies up like I was collecting seashells by the damn seashore, y’all.
The middle-Little may have been mortified, but I had a beautiful collection of the best jellies and jams in just three days. The night we had supper at the fancy hotel restaurant, I asked for takeaway. Scored super, deluxe condiments. The one morning we were there for the Beverly Hilton breakfast buffet. I was discreet at first. Once our waitress placed a pile of mini Tabasco bottles on the table, I had no more shits to give. A handful of those went into my pocketbook like it was 1978 and my name was Eleanor Chambers.
Shout out to you, Grandmom!
I used to think the condiment drawer was a poor people affliction. My sister-friends come from all kinds of socioeconomic backgrounds. Many of my wealthy sisters have a condiment drawer. When I ask one of them about it, she says she’s a sauce whore. Another says, her grandmother cleared the table too. My friend can’t let an unused packet of anything sit. We laugh over this shared connection. I tell her I’ve often thought of ordering boxes of restaurant condiments and making gift bags for my friends. She says she feels faint, but I’d have to make up wonderful stories about all the places I’d been to collect them all.
When she says this, I realize it’s not all about the condiments. Nope, it’s about getting them. It’s about getting a little gift of apple jelly or Tabasco or ketchup. We take it home and put it in a special drawer to use at a later date. We smile when we see them in that drawer. We’re reminded of a supper at a restaurant or a trip we took. I mean, not a one of us minds buying the big bottles of this crap. We know that inside these tiny bottles of ketchup and grape jam is a certain brand of magic that connects some of us to our grandmothers and others to places and experiences.
We promise we won’t take more than we ought to, restaurant owners. Well, on the condition that you aren’t like a super fancy restaurant and then, I’m gonna ask for take away. I’ll expect tons of condiments. Hotel folks, if you put a tiny bottle of anything on my table, it’s gone. To our families, we have a sweet affliction. You can either join us or get out of the way. Sisters who can relate to this, we gotchoo. Sisters who can’t, just pass your unused jellies down this way.