A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Pineapple Principle

I've recently finished reading "What My Mother Gave Me" - a collection of essays by women writers on memorable gifts from their mothers.  Although it is probably too late to get this for your mom for Mother's day, I HIGHLY recommend the book.  I may be slightly biased because my aunt wrote one of the essays, but I do like that some of the authors have bad relationships with their mothers, because it means the book isn't a smarmy Hallmark type book.  It caused me to reflect on the many gifts, tangible and intangible, that my mother has given me over the years.  She gave up a paid job to raise me and my three brothers, so there's obviously the invaluable gift of time.  But I decided to write this Mother's Day post about something I'll call the "Pineapple Principle."

A lot of memories from my childhood involve large parties.  In the spring, summer, and fall, our screen porch could be filled with more than 20 people enjoying a meal, chatting, and laughing, with kids running out to the backyard to jump on the trampoline, catch fireflies, and play games.  In winter, parties spilled out of the dining and living rooms into basement.  Delicious food emanated forth from the small galley kitchen, which often produced dozens and dozens of handmade rolls for these parties.  A deep freezer (and later, additional fridge) meant that there was plenty of storage space, and plenty of leftovers for guests to take home.

As I remember it, there was always room for one more at the table, and new members of our church congregation found themselves asked to dinner.  My parents had a soft spot for those who would be alone on holidays, and several single members of our congregation became "regulars" at Easters, Thanksgivings and Christmases at our house.  I won't pretend that I enjoyed every aspect of this.  Church ended at noon, and on the drive home my mom laid out the plan of attack, listing the chores that needed to be completed by each of us in order to have dinner ready in time.

It wasn't until years later that I learned the term "hostess neurosis," but it fits my mom.  Before parties (especially in the final minutes before guest arrival) she could become a frenzy of activity.  A steady stream of commands issued forth, with admonitions to clean up toys, put things away, set the table, vacuum, dust, etc.  Sometimes I would wonder, why does she bother?  Why have these parties if it causes so much trouble?  With much murmuring, my brothers and I would help - up until our friends arrived, and then we were gone.

When the guests arrived, my mom transformed into the gracious hostess - her tone of voice much lighter.  Our house was probably never as clean as she would have liked, and there was usually still work to be done on the dinner (which was okay, because somebody was always late).  Yes, there were times when the rolls burned or something didn't turn out well.  But my mom gave a good party - the food was plentiful and delicious, and home felt home-y.  She and my dad seemed to be able to pull the good stories out of people and get them to laugh at good jokes.

I'm not sure when the pineapple became a fixture in this pantheon of parties.  It was my mom's "go-to" appetizer - a pineapple, sliced into chunks, with each chunk skewered on a toothpick along with a raspberry or blueberry.  Simple to prepare, but visually pretty because of the colors, it's a perfectly refreshing snack.  A little bit exotic somehow, yet also wonderfully ordinary.  Not too long ago, I found myself helping my mom slice and prepare thirty pineapples for a friend's wedding reception.  It's become a standard Mom dish, one that I will always associate with her.

Pineapples are a symbol of hospitality.*  So it's fitting that I tend to associate them with my mom.  When Paul is telling the saints how to behave like saints in the New Testament, he urges them to be "...given to hospitality" (Romans 12:13).  It's a verse that I've written "MOM" next to in my scriptures, because she exhibits that sense of hospitality.  The Pineapple Principle is one of hospitality and giving.

The Pineapple Principle means that I can never invite "just one" person over for dinner.  It includes the hostess neurosis and associated shortness of temper, along with the ability to make large quantities of food in a small kitchen.  The Pineapple Principle gives me the reflex to ask "What can I bring?" when I am invited to a party.  It's a gift that makes me come early to set up or stay late to wash dishes.**  It means that I bring the pineapple to my work Christmas party every year.

The Pineapple Principle has taught me to focus less on myself and my often imperfect cooking, and more on creating a space for laughter and togetherness.  My house, too, will probably never be as clean as I would like (it's the "lived-in look" as my mom says, "instead of the magazine perfect look").  But that's no reason to shy away from opening my doors.  I do, and it usually involves pineapples.  So this Mother's Day, I will have my mom over for dinner.  My dad is in charge of the pineapple this time.

*Apparently, the pineapple's symbolism is a myth.  No matter!  Slight exaggeration is a genetic trait that happens to run in my family.
**Okay, I'm really making myself sound like a saint here, but I sometimes think it's the Curse of the Pineapples, because it imbues me with a sense of duty to help with any party.  And I don't always listen to it, either.  But I know the voice in my head urging me to help is the Pineapple Principle.


  1. I love you, your mother, and your mother's pineapples!! What a wonderful tribute! Wish we could have been there today.

  2. Believe it or not, but Grandpa Smith taught me the ease of preparing a beautiful pineapple. I think he learned it from someone who invited him over for dinner in the Amherst ward right after Grandma Smith passed away. So I learned it sometime in 1985 when Grandpa Smith saw my pineapple and offered to cut it up. I was intrigued that he would offer to help, as he usually grumbled when I asked him to do anything with meal preparation saying,"Oh! I forgot that this is a liberated kitchen where men have to help." I remember him showing me how and I saw how easy it was and how elegant it looked topped with raspberries. So I think about Harold Smith every time I do a pineapple and how weird it was to have a father-in-law show me a fun easy party appetizer trick. Also enjoyed reading and laughing about my "hostess neurosis" which my mother had a lot worse, but I now realize I have passed on to my daughter. YIKES! Don't pick up my bad habits! You're an accountant -- subtract that from your assets.