The only thing more dangerous than a group of senior church ladies playing cards and drinking is a group of senior church ladies playing cards, drinking and eating rum balls. The liquor hits them twice as fast, and when you combine that with the sugar rush, the gambling and the gossip, things are bound to get a little crazy.
Sadie, my grandmother’s neighbor, was a sweet old lady with a heart of gold and a head that got a bit confused sometimes. She loved her God, her family and her friends, but she also loved her dog, her gossip and her rum balls.
Eleanor (my grandmother, whom we referred to as Nanny or Nan) and Sadie were in a circle at church together. They also frequented the same garden club, the same hairdresser and the same grocery store. A bit too much togetherness, at times, for my grandmother (Sadie was quite the talker), but she loved Sadie and knew how much it was reciprocated, so she put up with it. I remember times when we’d be sitting around the dining room table, playing Yahtzee or just visiting, and the phone would ring.
“Don’t answer it, it’s Sadie,” my grandmother would say, and nine times out of 10, we’d be treated to a delightfully long monologue by Sadie herself on the answering machine. Five times out of 10 after that, we’d peek out the window to see Sadie walking up the street toward us, often with her dog, Clem, in tow.
“Lord, don’t answer the door,” Nan would say.
“Nanny, she knows you’re home. Your car’s in the driveway, and you don’t walk anywhere. Answer the door.”
So she would, and Sadie would usually visit for a l-o-n-g time, delighting all of us and irritating my grandmother, who had far more important things to do with her time than listen to a woman 10 years her senior rambling on and on.
One day we were sitting at the table, visiting with Sadie, when she started talking about the day she was hosting bridge club. My grandmother had been there, along with several other friends. During the course of the story, Sadie and Eleanor got so tickled that they were hard to understand, at times, but the story went something like this:
“Eleanor, do you remember that time I was hosting the bridge club and…”
“Sadie, if this is the story about the rum balls, I’ll stop you right there. There are children present.”
“Oh, Elner, what’s wrong with the kids hearing this story? It’s about cards and cookies.” She always called us “the kids,” even when we were in our 20s and 30s.
“The liquor cooks out, though, Elner.”
“Sadie, they’re a no-bake dessert.”
“Nevermind. Go on, tell it. You’ll do it whether I try to stop you or not.”
“So, do you remember…?”
“Yes, I remember.”
“And we were playing the cards, and all of a sudden Doris couldn’t tell a club from a spade, and Eloise was betting her car on a hand, and Harriet was giggling so much she couldn’t play the game?”
“Yes, I remember, Sadie, but I think you were the one doing most of the giggling.”
“No, it was Harriet. I didn’t start giggling until you told that joke. The one about the fish.”
“My fish joke?” I piped in. I had heard this joke in college and told my grandmother, who loved it.
“Yes. What do you call a fish with no eye?”
“No idea,” I played along.
“A fffffffffffsssssssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhh!” I got a little wet when she said this, and they both started howling with laughter. It still my favorite drunk joke.
“Anyway, those were some damn good rum balls, weren’t they, Elner?”
“Some of your best.”
In case you don’t have a Sadie around to make you rum balls and talk your ear off, I’ve come up with a close approximation to her recipe. Make sure your kids don’t think they’re munchkins! (If you do happen to have “munchkins” in your house that you want to share these with, you can substitute orange juice for the rum.)
- 1 (12 ounces) box Vanilla wafer cookies, crushed
- 1 ½ cups chopped walnuts
- ¾ cup 10x powdered sugar
- ¼ cup cocoa
- ½ cup rum (dark rum, spiced rum, light rum, flavored rum … any kind you like)
- 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
- More powdered sugar or cocoa for dusting
- Crush cookies and nuts with food processor.
- Combine with powdered sugar and cocoa, then add rum and corn syrup. Stir until smooth.
- Shape dough into 1-inch balls and roll in powdered sugar or cocoa.
- Store in an airtight container for 2 or 3 days before serving to develop flavor.
- Just before serving, roll in powdered sugar or cocoa again.
- Serve with milk, coffee or your favorite rum punch (if you want a double hit). Good friends and laughter are good accompaniments, too.