It is with great respect that we mourn the passing of Dorcas Reilly, 92, whose creativity in the kitchens of Campbell Soup in the 1950s led to generations of young Americans to wonder, as they sat down at the table for their traditional evening meals, “What the hell is that?”
I certainly never said that out loud, because I would have been sent bouncing across the floor in a series of Olympic-quality flips, half-twists and triple whatsits, as my brother and sister scribbled their scores on the napkins to be held up once my involuntary routine had been completed.
The old man wouldn’t tolerate criticism of the food placed before us, even when the main entrée was the creation of Dorcas Reilly, who changed the lives of millions with her invention of the (dreaded, in my instance) Green Bean Casserole.
I should point out before people begin to assume that I was beaten routinely as a child and conclude, “Ah, that explains everything,” that the old man never bounced me across the floor for any reason, but did suggest from time to time that it might be a possibility if I didn’t straighten up.
Like the time a Green Bean Casserole the size of a hockey rink was placed on the table and I, borrowing from an early “Frankenstein” movie, yelled, “It’s Alive! It’s Alive.”
Not to disparage Mrs. Reilly, may she forever rest in peace, but while millions of people apparently continue to enjoy — no, love — Green Bean Casserole, I always have considered it to be … well, less than a handsome dish.
My siblings like it, my friends like it, and yet I remain baffled how anyone could dig into something and say, “Mmmm, mmmm, good!” when its appearance to me suggests, “Hey, this thing needs an autopsy!” (Bounce, tumble, roll).
Besides not particularly caring for anything that looks like, “I found this on the side of the road! Let’s eat it,” I have a strong aversion to cream of mushroom soup as it is, much less with embedded string beans concealed by bread crumbs and French fried onions fresh from the can.
Although I once liked mushroom soup, the old man cured me of that during lunch when I was young and impressionable by saying, “Did you know they grow mushrooms in manure?”
All I’m saying is tell that to a nine-year-old and get out of the way.
No amount of explanation, fatherly chats about the process of sterilizing fertilizer, of food safety precautions, of inspections and extreme quality control measures can erase that initial vision from your mind.
So, it’s not so much the beans or the onions or the crispy onion from the can. It’s their unfortunate merger with cream of mushroom gloop.
“So, what’s for supper tonight?”
“Green Bean Casserole!”
“Yay!” say my brother.
“Yay!” says my sister.
“Yay!” says my father.
“Cream of innards … Ow!” says I.
Rest in peace, Mrs. Reilly, wherever you are.