When my great-grandmother, Retaw “Dandeen” Mccoy, passed away in 2005 at the age of ninety-nine, we gave her a proper Presbyterian funeral in her Western Pennsylvania hometown. Afterward, in the church basement, the ladies of Springdale Presbyterian did what they’ve always done: served a funeral lunch. There were finger sandwiches. There were the big pans of rigatoni you see at just about every Pittsburgh-area gathering. There were cookies.
And then there were the Jell-O salads. Dish after dish of jiggly, shining gelatin molded into rings, braids—even a jellied tuna salad in the shape of a fish. Cherry red with fruit, pistachio green with nuts and marshmallows, a clear lemon yellow studded with vegetables: it was as if we’d stepped backward in time. Dandeen, who raised children and grandchildren in the mid-century glory days of the Jell-O salad, would have loved it.