Relish Tray

Relish Tray
Relish Tray

It wasn’t every Sunday we had dinner at my grandmother’s, but in memory it seems that way. We pulled the table open, slotted in heavy wooden leaves, added a tablecloth, dishes - and then the relish tray. This cut glass dish held an unchanging assembly of vegetables, regular as churchgoers: scallions; black olives; radishes sliced into rose petals; and celery, ends cut into a curling fan. Alongside stood a shaker of salt. If we spilled it, we had to toss some over the left shoulder to ward off bad luck. Undeniably dignified, the relish tray signaled a special meal. 

My grandmother's father, Joseph O’Gorman, came from Ireland in 1908 at age 22, after his father passed away. Son of a coachman, he must have been familiar with vehicles; he sold tires for a living. He died of tuberculosis at age 50, when my grandmother was 15. After graduation, she took her writing skills to work as a secretary for the Army.

Like her gift for words, most of our family heirlooms are intangible. The closest things we have are the objects she treasured as symbols of the good life she helped to make for us. Like the relish tray, many were for the table. Though nothing on the table came from Ireland, our conversation there helped us understand what it meant to be Irish-American: to be resilient and resourceful, to meet all situations with humor, to respect learning, and to celebrate life’s modest victories – even when no greater than getting through a long week to meet again around the table. 

Place(s): The Bronx, New Jersey, Ireland
Year: 1908

– Michelle Moon

Relationship:  Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more