After more than two years of struggling with the Coronavirus and its various strains, we are once again hopeful for an end to this terrible public health menace. We are even hoping to gather with our families for the autumn and winter holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year. Meanwhile, 700,000 Americans died of this illness, and many families are still waiting to honor their lost loved ones. In my July 2020 blog, “A Memorial Tea,” I remembered my dear sister, Margaret Murdock Pedulla, who died on March 31 last year. I imagined hosting a tea in her honor, focusing on her favorite color, green, her favorite flowers and including her favorite tea-time treats, deviled eggs, Scottish shortbread and dark See’s candies.
As it turned out, we were able to do even more. With the help of my co-author, Kathleen, who is Margaret’s daughter, along with the entire family and a team of Kathleen’s life-long friends, we created a beautiful outdoor memorial service for my sister followed by a festive reception in the yard of her family home in Watsonville, California. How did we manage this complex event for about fifty people? We did what is required for every successful large-group activity. We planned ahead and followed the simple guidelines listed below. All along our primary focus was on giving dear Margaret the most beautiful and heartfelt memorial service and the most joyful celebration of her life that we had the energy and imagination to produce.
Visualize the Location and Scope of the Event and Start Planning Early
Kathleen’s “Food and Beverage Layout Plan” will give you some insight into the careful thought she gave to every aspect of organizing and serving the elegant lunch that our guests enjoyed so much.
Enlist a Competent Team with Excellent Communication Skills
We planned the cemetery service well in advance and enlisted various family members to speak or otherwise participate. Then we held a family meeting the night before the event to review the tasks of each participant, providing each with a folder containing specific instructions for his or her role at the service.
Kathleen followed a similar procedure for the reception, contacting each team member well in advance with a written copy of the menu and a detailed list of who was responsible for preparing or obtaining each item on the menu. Members of the team who were responsible for seating, table settings and so forth were given similar written instructions.
Obviously, selecting the day, time and location is the first step in planning a complex event, but last-minute details can be just as crucial. Kathleen developed the amazing, multi-cultural lunch menu for the reception months in advance, and I did the same for Margaret’s biography, the eulogy and the chronology of the memorial service. However, some of the most meaningful details were completed in the very last seconds before we changed into our black dresses and put on our pearls to begin the family procession to the cemetery.
Kathleen was up before dawn on the day of the service, baking the Irish Soda Bread, Margaret’s favorite, and then putting the Blackberry Cobbler in the oven. Meanwhile, I assembled the Cheddar and Chutney Tea Sandwiches, which needed to be as fresh as possible, just as Kathleen’s friend Kristen arrived to make the luscious Macaroni and Cheese from scratch and bake it along with the refrigerated Lasagna and the Baked Beans as the service at the cemetery was taking place. During this final hour, team members were also dispatched to pick up the two items that were purchased rather than home-made: hand-made spicy cheese and chili tamales and a glorious tray of ultra-fresh sushi.
In a heroic example of careful long-range planning, Kathleen’s partner Isaac obtained a locally raised Four H Club pig donated by Peggy Reber, and transformed it into a glorious honey and mustard glazed ham. In a carefully timed last-minute effort, Margaret’s devoted daughter-in-law Tiffany, showed up with huge bowls of just-picked raspberries, strawberries and blackberries from her family farm to brighten the beautiful lunch buffet.
Kathleen’s Memorial Reception Menu
Beer, Wine, Whiskey, Punch, Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider, Coffee, Tea, Cucumber Water
Isaac’s Salsa and Pickled Okra, Guacamole and Chips
Antipasto Platter: cheeses, meats, olives, crackers, crudites, baguette
Kathy Lathrop’s Broccoli Spread
Kathleen’s Shrimp Ceviche
Irish Soda Bread with Irish Butter
Asian Peanut Noodles
Thai Green Bean Coleslaw
Chili and Cheese Tamales
Pulled Pork with Barbecue Sauce
Chutney and Cheese Tea Sandwiches
Isaac’s Honey Mustard Ham with Rolls for Ham Sliders
Kristen’s Macaroni and Cheese
Kathleen’s Spinach Lasagna
Fresh Strawberries, Raspberries and Blackberries with Honey-Vanilla Yogurt Sauce
Raspberry and Peach Trifle
Red Velvet Bundt Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
Rose’s Triple Espresso Cake with Fudge Icing
Fregolotta (Italian Crumb Cake)
Three-Tiered Cookie Plate: Frosted Brownies, The Queen’s Shortbread, Lemon Bars
Bambi’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
As you think about Thanksgiving with your family this month, you are welcome to include any of the items from our memorial menu along with your traditional family meal. You will find Isaac’s Roasted Tomato Salsa in my August 2019 blog on this website, Homemade Vanilla Custard for the Peach and Raspberry Trifle in my May 2020 blog, Blackberry Cobbler with Almond Streusel Topping in my August 2020 blog and Fregolotta (Italian Crumb Cake) in my July 2018 blog.
Though the last two years have been hard for all of us, we invite you to celebrate with us once again, the joy of family, the joy of food, the joy of Afternoon Tea. And a happy Thanksgiving to you all!