If you’ve ever had my mom as a waitress, you remember her.
She’s a Southern blonde who’s been waiting tables for 30 years and was blessed with the gift of gab. When you sat at one of her table, she asked your name, where you were from, and made you smile, whether you wanted to or not.
And she always made sure you tipped. If you weren’t satisfied with your service, Lord have mercy (Warning: I get extra Southern when I talk about my momma), you remember her even more vividly. One particular table of patrons certainly does, thanks to an incident involving ranch dressing.
Ranch dressing is something of a duty in the South. Southerners vote, pay taxes, and dip our chicken tenders and personal pan pizzas into what can politely be described as ranch dressing vats. Sure, Southerners don’t have a trademark on ranch and I don’t mean to engage in regional exceptionalism, but I have yet to find the Church of Ranch so well-attended than south of the Mason-Dixon.
I first learned about this ranch devotion as a server myself in high school. Instead of buying name-brand ranch dressing, the Denny’s franchise in Roanoke, Virginia, that mistakenly employed me made “homemade” ranch in store. The recipe called for three simple ingredients: water, mayonnaise, and Denny’s Special Ranch Powder. Mix in an industrial size bowl with a cartoonishly large whisk and voila! You’ve made that creamy, viscous dressing that makes everything better.
So when a four-top of college students stumbled into the restaurant where my mom worked, she wasn’t surprised that they asked for ranch on their salads, ranch as a side for the entrees, and extra ranch when they reached the bottom of their ramekins.
“They ran me ragged,” she told me over the phone as she recounted the tale during one of our mostly-weekly phone dates. “‘Can we get some more sweet tea?! Can we get some more bread?! Another margarita, please!’”
My mom had a feeling about this table. Sure, it may have been a little ageist, but she’s developed a sixth sense in her three decades of serving and knew this table might not appropriately tip for the level of service she was providing. Sure enough, when the time came, the four ranchhand college students left her $5 on a $100 check. That’s a tip that calls for a “Heaven help me.”
But this wasn’t my mom’s first rodeo, and she, in fact, got the last word.
“Can we get some ranch to go?” the young lady asked my mom as they were packing their leftovers into doggy bags.
People who ask for to-go ranch need it, so my mom honored the request. “Sure thing, darling!” she said, killing her with Southern kindness.
My mom walked to the server station to get her a small cup of ranch to go. And at this point in her re-telling of the story, my mom starts belly-laughing into the phone.
“What’s so funny, Mom?”
She’s still laughing, and only after a few more chuckles does she tell me why.
“She got blue cheese.”
Later that night, I like to imagine Courtney or Mackeyla or Tabatha drunkenly tumbling down the Myrtle Beach boardwalk, clinging to the bicep of her boyfriend, Brad or Brock or Stanley.
They stumble into the timeshare they rented out for the weekend. After Brock is fast asleep, she removes her styrofoam to-go container from the fridge. She eyes the ramekin of familiar white sauce and pulls it out.
She opens the lid and plunges some complimentary bread into the dipping sauce, simultaneously marinating the bread and also using it like a spoon to get maximum dressing. She brings the covered treat to her lips, smiling in anticipation about the sweet, sweet satisfaction of ranch-laced carbohydrates. But instead of the buttermilky, savory flavor she’s grown to love, she’s greeted by the rancid, moldy flavor of ranch’s ugly step-sister.
She spits the bread out onto the timeshare linoleum floor, cocks her head back, and howls at the Myrtle Beach moon:
“That bitch gave me blue cheese!”
But don’t call my mom a bitch, Courtney. Because that bitch, bless her heart, is my momma, who I love to death.
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