University of Baltimore Asst. Prof. and Bohemian Rhapsody Columnist Marion Winik knows how to throw a theme party — it’s coded in her DNA.
Jane and Hyman Winik were sports fans, they were partiers, and they liked to play games for money. As soon as the first Super Bowl was televised in the late ’60s, they saw the possibilities. Unlike Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter and Passover, all of which my parents countenanced in a lukewarm, chocolate-bunny way, the Super Bowl reflected deeply-held Winik family interests and values. Step aside, Santa, make way for Bart Starr.
From the outset, their Super Bowl parties featured complex betting options: over/under wagers on the final score, quarter-by-quarter last-digit guessing, a variety of single-player bets. These were managed by my father using printed ballots, PC spreadsheets, a chalk-gridded tote board with the bettors’ names printed down the side: Altschul, Bloch, Katz, Schottland, Vegosen, Weinstein, Winik.
Most of the refreshments were ordered from the deli, with the exception of my mother’s Cheerleader Chowder, which she took as seriously as other people take their Christmas cookies. Shredding cabbage was definitely something Jane Winik did only once a year. When my father went through his post-heart-attack, metro-sexual phase, he bought a food processor and developed a tuna mousse whose secret ingredient was Progresso Olive Condite, since discontinued. He began shaving orange peels into the Stoli and keeping it in the freezer. For a few months, he carried a leather man-purse.
My mother focused on her costume, team colors if either the Jets or the Giants were involved, though she drifted ever more Giant-ward after the Namath years. (I have confirmed this with her 90-year-old brother-in-law, one of the only people left who can discuss the matter. In her heart, he said, it was always the Giants.) Mom was an athlete herself and looked good in her jeans. I hadn’t remembered that there were decorations until my sister and I cleaned out her attic in 2008 and found a box full of miniature footballs and little helmets with NFL logos. My mother had close ties to local suppliers of plastic novelty items due to her annual procurement of prizes for the elementary school fair.
The party became so popular that sometime in the ’80s it had to be moved from our home to the golf club, where we would later hold most of our family weddings and funerals. My mother was Club Champion and my father the head of the House Committee. Nowadays it is strange to drive past the revamped and remodeled clubhouse, as I often do when I end up back in West Deal, New Jersey. It’s if I am the scion of a long-gone royal family and it is a palace full of parvenus who have forgotten their history.
After my father’s death in 1985, my mother upheld the party tradition alone for quite a while, though in some ways it just made everyone sad. By then, I was living in Austin, Texas, where my hairdresser husband Tony and I had found our own way to celebrate the Winter Festival of Television, Food and Gambling.
Our annual Academy Awards party incorporated the key elements of my parents’ pioneering event, though we took a potluck approach to the food, asking each guest to bring an appetizer or a dessert. Betting rules were per my father’s strict example: you had to hand in your filled-out ballot and five bucks before the ceremony began or you were out of luck. By the time our friend Joe Prados won a $275 pot, our party had also split its seams; we set up televisions in our backyard and hired a bartender.
We referred to Oscar as if he were a god whose whims we had to divine. Did Oscar like epic costume dramas? (Oh yes, he did, and if there had been an epic costume drama starring Tom Hanks it would have won every spot on the slate.) What did Oscar have against Robert Altman? Like everyone else, Oscar was crazy about my Vietnamese meatballs, a recipe I discovered in The New York Times. After the meatballs were vacuumed up, I saw people drink the dipping sauce straight from the bowl.
Like my mother, I tried to keep things going after I was widowed. The party moved with me to Pennsylvania, where the next generation became infatuated with it as well. This contributed to its decline. One year, my then 13-year-old son Vince won the pot; the next year it was high school quarterback Andy McCoy. We wondered how boys who didn’t know Meryl Streep from Helen Mirren had developed such acumen, then we realized that EntertainmentWeekly.com and other such sites were giving extremely accurate predictions in every category, including Best Sound Editing and other head-scratchers. Meanwhile my second husband did not enjoy parties or film trivia. Probably Oscar did not like him either.
This year the Super Bowl is on February third, the Oscars on the 24th. Choose one or celebrate them both: I certainly hope to. Here is my mother’s recipe to get you started. Old school, yes, but goes great with pigskin.
Jane Winik’s Cheerleader Chowder
two cans Campbell’s beef consommé
two cans Campbell’s golden mushroom soup
four cans water
four cups shredded cabbage
three cups sliced carrots
one cup lentils
one lb. kielbasa, sliced
two 16 oz. cans diced tomatoes with basil
Combine all ingredients in soup pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for at least 30 minutes. You can make a vegetarian version by substituting vegetable broth for the consommé and leaving out the kielbasa.
Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl.