Rita Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 5, 2010

Tailgate-in-grove etiquette breach not as embarrassing as game score

Rupert and I felt a tinge of guilt last Friday evening as we walked to our car on the Ole Miss campus. We’d been to a program and walked out of the Overby Center about dusk. We saw several large signs announcing, “The Grove is closed until 10 p.m.” At 6 p.m. there were people standing around in The Grove, likely marking their tailgating spot for the next day’s home football game. We wondered if the campus police really make people wait until the clock strikes 10 before they let anyone in to set up their tents. Do they chime the hour or shoot a pistol?

We don’t know because we left. We felt guilty because we knew Cousin Mark would be headed from Batesville to Oxford about 9:30 with his tent.

Mark and Janie have hosted us at their tailgate tent for years.

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The Friday night set-up has not always guaranteed them the spot they desired.

Sometimes they have returned to campus for the game the next day only to discover some ill-mannered fellow tailgater has actually moved their tent to another location. In a sea of red and white picnic canopies, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack to identify their wandering tent.

Cousin Mark has added an amenity to the family tailgate this year: he built a plywood cabinet atop a wagon to easily roll his flatscreen TV and satellite dish to our spot. Now the football fanatics among us can watch the other games being televised up until time to make the trek to Vaught-Hemingway to see the Rebels play.

Don’t be fooled, though. The main reason to gather for a tailgate isn’t to watch some other college play beforehand.

The main draw is the food. Decadent, rich food that marks an Ole Miss tailgate as a special occasion: Pork tenderloin and fried chicken and spinach dip and mango salsa and chips, pigs-in-a-blanket, sausage and cream cheese squares, brownies, cupcakes with orange icing for Halloween last week.

When you’re invited for a tailgate, you bring food.

Our crowd was to gather around noon. Saturday morning I emerged from my workweek stupor to ponder what I could prepare to take to the picnic.

Immediately I realized I did not have time to do anything fancy.

I barely had time to make peanut butter sandwiches.

Thankfully, I remembered that John Howell had sent Rupert and me a fine stick of Wisconsin salami from his recent visit to Milwaukee. So we sliced the tasty sausage and some cheddar cheese and took crackers to go with it.

“What do you want to put this in?” asked Rupert.

“How about this nice Tupperware container with a lid?” I suggested, pulling the florescent blue and green vessel from the cabinet.

In my haste, I had lost any good taste and sense of propriety.

Really, Tupperware in The Grove?

It didn’t hit me until all the ladies in our group were busy making space on the table under the tent for all our stuff. There was a tiered cupcake holder, resplendent with all those orange frosted pastries.

Janie has this collection of red enamelware bowls that hold dips, salads, chips.

Ashlee had dipped caramel apples which were individually wrapped, tied with bows, and displayed on an attractive tray.

Cathy brought her food in matching brown pottery.

There were Ole Miss platters and bowls of all shapes and sizes. There’s a receptacle shaped like a football helmet, holding chips and dip. All this is arranged atop a festive red and blue tablecloth, spotted with brown footballs.

Amid all that fancy tableware sat my plastic canister.

What was I thinking?

The food I brought tasted fine. People even ate it. I saw them. Nobody was sneering at my tackiness.

Why am I so worried about this?

 My plastic bowl wasn’t nearly as embarrassing as the Rebels’ 51-31 loss to Auburn.