Joanne Michalak Sincere would have relished the idea of her birthday and the Super Bowl coinciding.
This was not just because she was a great football fan but also because she was the consummate hostess -- a suburban Milwaukee version of Perle Mesta who adored entertaining. To combine two reasons to throw a party would have been an unmatched delight for her.
Today would have been my mother's 70th birthday, and my most vivid memories of her come from those many occasions in which she hosted a party for a host of reasons: birthdays, wedding anniversaries, baby showers, baptisms, First Communions, confirmations, Mothers' Day, Fathers' Day, Halloween, the Fourth of July, New Year's Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Super Bowl Sunday.
My mother's twin loves of football and entertaining would have been combined in countless ways if it had been possible, during her lifetime, for the Super Bowl to be scheduled on February 3 instead of in January.
To put this in context, one must understand what the culture of Wisconsin is like with regard to the Green Bay Packers. Wisconsinites' obsession with the Packers makes metropolitan Washington's love affair with the Redskins look tepid in comparison.
I had not noticed this in my growing-up years. To be surrounded by Packermania in Wisconsin is much like being a fish, not noticing that one is surrounded by water. The phenomenon hit me about 10 years ago when I made a trip to Milwaukee for an October high school reunion and I realized that I was the virtually the only person in a crowded shopping mall not wearing green and gold.
My blinders may have been strong even as a youth, however. The last time I watched a Super Bowl game on TV -- or, to be more accurate, the last time I was in a room with the Super Bowl playing on television -- was the second time the Packers played in the Big Game. (Do the math.)
This indifference to football was not shared by my mother (or my father, either). Even in the years after my parents left Wisconsin for the desert climate of Las Vegas, they continued to wear Packer gear and even sought out a sports bar that specifically showed Packer games on its big screen. (Video poker was only a secondary draw.)
As for entertaining, my mother was not stingy with the spread. While preparing a big meal -- a standing rib roast on New Year's Day, a turkey on Thanksgiving, grilled steaks during the summer -- she would lay out hors d'oeuvres of numerous varieties:
There would be Vienna sausages or meatballs (or both) in a sauce made of equal parts ketchup and brown sugar; raw ground round of beef (not ground chuck or ground sirloin) slathered on cocktail rye with a big slice of Bermuda onion; baked pizza rolls or cheese puffs made with shredded cheddar and Bisquick mix; and deviled eggs. Ordinary snacks included mixed nuts, pretzels, and cheese and crackers (always Ritz or Saltines). In winter, we'd have pickled herring in wine or cream sauce, served with Triscuits or Wheat Thins. During the summer, she would bring out a crudite tray of sliced carrots, celery, cucumbers -- some from her own backyard garden -- and in the early '70s introduced the heretofore-unheard-of uncooked cauliflower or broccoli with a ranch dressing for dipping. (Unfortunately, when my mother cooked cauliflower or broccoli, it was boiled to death -- something attributable to the times, I guess, and a minor and forgivable flaw.)
For days ahead of a party, my mother would work hard to get the house in order, buying food and drinks -- always a full bar, with a double supply of brandy (it being Wisconsin) -- in advance, cooking what needed to be cooked, freezing what needed to be frozen, thawing what needed to be thawed, decorating according to the season. (Don't get me started on what was required to dress the house for Christmas. Other holidays were a bit more lax.)
She would assign me various tasks. (How else would I have learned the proper way to set a table, with all the silverware configured correctly, and napkins folded nicely on each plate?) I never saw a check list, but she surely must have kept one in her mind, because no matter how chaotic things seemed on the morning of an event, by the time guests arrived, everything was in order and my mom, the hostess, could enjoy the party as much as anyone else.
So it is no stretch of the imagination to suggest that, were she able to celebrate her birthday and Super Bowl Sunday simultaneously, my mother would be enjoying heaven on earth.