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Spam made us stars of reunion

Published 11:31am Friday, July 13, 2012

For many, many months it has been clear that this was going to be the Summer of Spam here in Austin, what with its 75th anniversary and Hormel’s simultaneous unveiling of an expanded corporate headquarters.

What I didn’t expect was the amount of interest that the anniversary would generate outside of Austin.

For my family it’s been a summer-long round of traveling to family reunions, coincidentally meeting up with friends of friends at various events and similar situations that require a fair amount of chit-chat.

Chit-chat is not my specialty, especially with people I do not know well, and so often find my self in social situations featuring a lot of awkward silence. Spam to the rescue.

Any Austin, Minn., resident knows that if you tell someone from outside this area that you’re from Austin they will assume you mean the one in Texas. It seems many people around this great country are not familiar with Austin, Minn. They are, however, familiar with Spam.

In dozens of introductory conversations this summer I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t know what I mean when I tell them that I live in Spam’s home town. That’s an amazing level of recognition. Reference anything else Minnesotan – the Vikings, walleye, Norwegians – and many people will be confused. Not so Spam.

This year, what with the big anniversary, it has been easy to let Spam carry the conversation. Everyone has a thought on Spam. Their moms cooked it for them all the time. They love it. They hate it. They ate it in the Army. They’d never eat it. They wonder what exactly it is. They’re amazed that there are many varieties.

Those multiple varieties – classic, black pepper, jalapeno, turkey, less sodium and many more – in fact made us stars at one big reunion potluck.

Because we were attending the reunion from afar and staying overnight in a motel, we were hard-pressed to figure out what to bring to the potluck portion. Didn’t know whether we’d have a refrigerator, didn’t want to mess around with ice in a cooler. Wanted to do something better than a bag of chips (leave that option for all the single guys). Years ago, at the same type of reunion, we had decided to bring a vegetable tray; bought all the carrots and cauliflower at a local farmers market, brought them back to the room and found that washing vegetables in a motel sink then cutting them up with a rusty pocketknife was not a good – or appetizing — way to start the day.

This year, Spam to the rescue.

The boys had just toured the Spam museum as part of a Parks and Rec summer class. They came home ultra-impressed with the jalapeno flavor. So we packed jalapeno and six more flavors of Spam along to the reunion. No storage problems. Just opened it, sliced it, grilled it and set it out on labeled paper plates.

The Spam and cheese was particularly popular.

Because we had just had Spam with supper two days before, I veered over to the plate of grilled hamburgers for my own lunch. Adding a slice of Spam atop the burger was a delicious idea, though. I recommend the hickory smoked flavor.

The rest of the day, when introductions were made, people said things to us like, “Oh, you’re the Spam people.” We chose to take that as a compliment, although I would have preferred “people who brought Spam.” Either way, Spam made us reunion stars.

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