Walking Hand in Hand, and Ms. Joni’s Shrimp Cocktail

Dear Joey,

Remember that sweet elderly couple, the one that always holds hands while walking the long stretch of sidewalk that hugs the hills? I used to drive by them on my way to drop the girls off at preschool, and they were always there, at 8:00 sharp. Forget the clock: I could tell whether I was running late or not by how far down the street they were by the time I passed them. The closer they were to Walgreens, the later I was. I haven’t seen them in awhile.

I mentioned this to you on our way to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving this year. I miss seeing them, partly because their absence made me wonder why they weren’t walking together anymore. At their age, it’s hard not to wonder if they are putting feet to the “in sickness” part of their marriage vows, or more difficult even–the “until death parts us” part. Every time I saw them walking hand in hand, I smiled and thought of my grandparents and how happy I am they still do that sort of thing, and as I watched the familiar sweethearts walk every morning, I saw my grandparents walking and my own parents walking and us walking, still happily hand in hand even after all those years.


Since it was Thanksgiving, I assumed we would go for a walk, because that’s what we do on Thanksgiving. We don’t have much in the way of Thanksgiving traditions — not yet, at least, except for Ms. Joni’s Shrimp Cocktail and the walk I’ve come to count on. You whisk me out of the chaos of the kitchen, taking my hand and strolling with me on a long walk toward nowhere in particular. Where the sidewalk takes us doesn’t matter, really, as long as it leads us home again.

We usually walk along the same street I walked when I was younger, the one that led me through my childhood, really. That long stretch of Glenview Drive runs between my family’s old house, the first home I remember, and the new one that really isn’t new at all now. My parents have lived there for nearly 25 years, and I with them for most of those years. The road between those two homes connects many smaller streets, the ones that saw countless summertime bike rides to Fremont Market for ice cream cones, the garish blue bubble-gum flavor being a perpetual favorite. They pass through the place where the old El Patio restaurant used to be, along the grassy park that encircles the neighborhood pool; just past the elementary school where my dad went to Kindergarten. The same magnolia trees are still on the corner of Rodgers Avenue and Glenview Drive, and every time we walk beneath them I think about the day I watched dozens of high schoolers huddled beneath them painting posters for Homecoming, and how I wondered if I would ever be as grown up as they seemed.


And now, somehow I’m even more grown up that those teenagers I used to long to be, and I’m still roaming the same streets I used to as that child that wanted so much to grow up. I never would have guessed I would find myself lumbering up and down Glenview Drive with my very pregnant belly leading the way. In those days, with you by my side, I wondered whether our baby would walk up and down those streets along with us some day, or if we would move out of my parents’ house into a neighborhood of our own, a place where the path back to our own home would eventually become etched upon our hearts.

In all the years we have walked those streets, at Thanksgiving and otherwise, I admit I didn’t exactly like walking along the same sidewalks I used to walk as a child. At first it was sort of nostalgic: I probably bored you to tears with the sheer amount of detail you did not really ask for when you asked what it was like when I lived there as a kid (That’s the house Mary Ellen mom grew up in. That’s where you turn to go to Molly’s grandma’s house, the one with the pool and the freezer stocked with ice cream. This is the street took when I rode my bike to school all by myself–with my mom following close behind me in the station wagon. In High School, we called this street “Cute Boy Way” because Cari had a crush on one of the boys who lived on that corner. Richmond Avenue was where the rich people lived, so you knew you’d get the really good candy if you trick-or-treated there. There’s Anna’s house, that crazy old lady who shoved a swim cap on my head and tried to sell cheese to my mom.)


I know I should feel more connected to that tangle of streets and perhaps I ought to love them more than I do. These days when I walk them, I’m not filled with the sense of connectedness I always assumed I would feel for them as an adult. Instead, I feel so very disconnected from the people and places I used to know in my youth. Kids grew up and people moved on, leaving the illusion of sameness in their wake in the houses and streets that remain largely unchanged.

The trees are bigger, new flowers have been planted, and the homes themselves have gotten a new coat of paint. But the lawns are still well-manicured, a few people still go for walks in the evening, and believe it or not–newspapers still dot the driveways every now and then, and the sound of dogs barking as the sun quietly tucks itself in for the night echoes through the streets. Every so often I catch a bit of laughter carried on the breeze, a sound that reminds me someone else’s childhood is here somewhere amid the tangle of streets that saw me through my own.


Maybe I’m just getting old and grumpy and am feeling a little displaced. Or maybe I’m feeling sad because I don’t know what became of that sweet couple that I used to watch walking around our new neighborhood. Maybe I’m just ready to plant my feet in one place and stop moving already. Maybe I want to start walking our own neighborhood’s sidewalks ragged with our own family walks. Or maybe I just wish I was from a smaller town that doesn’t change the way a bigger town like this does. I don’t know. But this year–this year we didn’t take our annual Thanksgiving walk, and I missed it. I missed watching the crisp air clear your head and inspire you; I missed hearing you vent and dream and plan and laugh, and I missed the way your hand steadied my steps and led the way.

With so many walks behind us, I realize over the years our footsteps forged a new history of that place in my heart. I hope very much that we’ll pick up our tradition again next year. Maybe we’ll walk along the same streets we always do, or maybe we will find ourselves walking a new path. As long as I am holding your hand along the way, I will be content wherever we end up walking.



Ms. Joni’s Shrimp Cocktail


For Joey, it’s just not Thanksgiving without Ms. Joni’s Shrimp Cocktail. Joni Lyons (and John and Christy and Adam and, and, and…) walked closely alongside Joey and me before there even was a “Joey and me.” They held our hands and led us through those murky days when we were still trying to find our place in the adult world. Joey often showed up at their holiday gatherings, and Joni’s Shrimp Cocktail won his heart the first time he tasted it. He would eat bowl after bowl of the stuff at the Lyons’ house, caring not a whit about turkey or mashed potatoes or any of the more traditional Thanksgiving day fare (except for the pumpkin bars, clearly. This is Joey we’re talking about). After we got married, at some point, he started requesting that I make it on Thanksgiving, maybe because its presence at the table connected him to the people who were very much his family before I even was, or maybe because it’s just so yummy. Either way, in true Joey style, he knew it would become deeply entrenched in our traditions long before I ever did, but I’m so glad I feel the same way about it as he does now. I don’t really know why I never asked Joni for her recipe; maybe I just wanted to see if I could recreate the thing on my own. In any case, this is my rendition of Ms. Joni’s sort-of-like-ceviche Shrimp Cocktail. (Thank you, Joni–for this. For everything. We love you dearly.)

  • 2 pounds bay (salad) shrimp, thawed and drained
  • 1-4 oz. jar prepared horseradish
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped celery stalks
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 3 avocados, cubed
  • 2-14.5 oz. cans tomato sauce
  • 1-12 oz. bottle chili sauce
  • 3/4 cups pure cane sugar
  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • juice of two lemons (or 1/2 cup)
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

First, make sure you have a large mixing bowl. Next, thaw the shrimp in the refrigerator overnight, then rinse and drain well.

Next, prep the veggies. I always start with the horseradish because it’s sort of a pain to deal with and I like to get the hardest part out of the way. Use a sharp knife and remove the bark-like peel from the ragged root. Finely grate the white part of the root (beware, your eyes will water). Then, chop the onion and celery and set them aside.

Move on to make the sauce. Combine the grated horseradish, tomato sauce, chili sauce, sugar, vinegar, lemon zest and lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, onion powder, and salt; mix them up well, then taste. Adjust as you see fit.

Finally, gently stir in the shrimp, onions, and celery. Put a lid on the bowl and put it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve (at which point, cube and add the avocados).

One thought on “Walking Hand in Hand, and Ms. Joni’s Shrimp Cocktail

  1. Breana Marie Burkhart

    I may dislike working again, but lunch breaks and slow mornings give me a chance to catch up on my california family! Loved this post!

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