Jell-O Surprise

Roone AcreeBy Roone AcreeNovember 19, 20215 Minutes

It wasn’t really Thanksgiving until we saw the neon glow of the green Jell-O.

The table would already be decked out with my mother’s turkey, steaming in a sea of butter and seasonings. My aunt Pris’s cornbread dressing was ready, along with the mashed potatoes, pinto beans, creamed corn, deviled eggs, and everything else you can imagine. The pumpkin pies and pound cakes waited in all their glory on the buffet table.

But no one would think about digging in, or even saying grace, until my grandma brought out her Lime-Green Jell-O Surprise. The first time I remembered seeing it as a kid, I thought it was some sort of sludge from the bottom of Lake Norman.

“Get as much as you want,” she said. “I got plenty more.”

And boy, did she ever. To this day, I’m haunted by the image of the giant bowl full of green gelatinous goo. The adults raved about it as though it were manna from Heaven, but to me, it was just a pile of jiggly, alien goop that I’m pretty sure was radioactive.

All throughout Thanksgiving dinner, I tried to hide my dislike for the unholy dessert. I loved my grandma and didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but somehow, someone would always notice that I wasn’t eating any.

“Why don’t you just try a little?” some relative would broadcast to the world. “It’s really good.” My only response was to hem and haw and shuffle my feet.

On one occasion, I tried to create a diversion by claiming that the cat was on fire. But that didn’t work. It seemed like my whole family’s goal was to force me into gelatin nirvana, and yet, nothing short of a divine intervention could make me take a bite.

“Oh, just let him be,” my grandma would mercifully say. And that would be the end of it.

I never knew a Thanksgiving growing up where we didn’t have her special dessert. I guess I was in middle school before I even realized that many families had their own versions of the same lumpy, Jell-O concoction.

Some folks, I heard, made it with marshmallows, fruit, and nuts, some with cream cheese and carrots. Some were just plain cruel and added pineapple and cottage cheese.

When I was college age, I sat down to fancier Thanksgiving dinners and tried a thing called Waldorf salad, a Jell-O-free fruit and nut dish, made with mayonnaise. I can’t say I really liked dessert made with a condiment, but at least it wasn’t green, and at least it didn’t shake and shimmy.

A lifetime later, I was at home having Thanksgiving dinner with my family when I felt my Jell-O anxiety return. We’d just sat down to eat when my mother-in-law brought out a bowl of green Jell-O salad she had made. She insisted I try some, and I began to hem and haw like I used to do. I even told her about my nightmares of drowning in a pool of green primordial ooze. But she didn’t budge.

“Try it!” she insisted.

With great trepidation, I spooned out a little and stood there fighting the impulse to run and lock myself in the bathroom. I then took a bite and grinned. It was good … I mean, really good. I cleaned my plate and wanted more.

Not long after that, I had a moment with the Lord where I felt regret for the times I avoided eating Grandma’s Jell-O Surprise. It was an emotional moment that got me thinking about my family and God’s blessings in my life.

I even felt bad for lying about the cat all those years ago. Well, sort of.