I have been working on a memoir throughout the pandemic, and I’m not sure at this point if I am more tired of face masks or of writing about myself. I have been ruminating about my past, my horrible father, and his influence on my life for too long, and so I have laid the whole thing aside for a while.
Yesterday I spoke with my sister Meri, though, and we reminisced about our mother. In the fifties when women were more robust than they are today, and you could actually find clothing in size 12 or 14 in shops, our mom was a size 0. She lived on cigarettes and instant coffee, but often indulged at night in front of the tv in an entire jumbo Hershey’s Bar with Almonds in a size they don’t even make any more or an entire bag of Wise Potato Chips. She also enjoyed Barton’s toffee crunch which she hid from us in the credenza in the dining room. Meri found it but knew better than to eat some.
She worried constantly that we would get fat and no man would ever marry us. Meri stayed tiny, but even though I was never big, probably a size 8, she thought me huge and reduced my food portions and frowned whenever I ate anything.
Meri and I were picky eaters and she was a disinterested cook, so our meals were not enjoyable or nutritious. For lunch I would usually eat a sandwich of Wonder Bread and mayonnaise. She made meaty spaghetti sauce that I didn’t like, so when we had spaghetti for dinner, mine was topped by butter and ketchup. I hated cheese, which is now one of my favorites, because the only cheese we had in the house was Kraft American. She made a salad of iceberg lettuce drowned in bottled Italian dressing each night and placed a bottle of Pepsi on the dinner table.
We had a broiler in the kitchen and most meals were cooked in it. She made chicken drowning in butter and baby lamb chops, but we were allowed only one piece each. Roast beef was eye round coated in flour and paprika with no gravy. She would place onion rings secured by toothpicks on top. It was tough, and it smelled so much better than it tasted. Once I opened the lid of a pot bubbling on the stove and was confronted with a beef tongue sticking itself out of the water. I still have nightmares about that.
The reason mom’s cooking came up was because Easter and Passover are on us, and Meri was preparing meals for both holidays. Growing up we did not have special holiday meals, and in fact didn’t celebrate anything. Meri and I lusted after the Christas and Easter decor and traditions that our friends enjoyed. Even though we were ethnically Jewish, we never had a seder or celebrated Hannukah, although I have faint memory of potato latkes once.
I have no idea how to organize a seder, but plan on having a big Easter feast. I am so thrilled that two of my three kids live in Black Mountain, and just wish that my Arizona kids could be here with us. I am grateful that Anna Maria, my former mother-in-law, taught me to cook and enjoy food. We will all thank her on Sunday.