Here I am at one year of age, clearly not happy with being jailed for some infraction of toddlerhood. I was a robust baby; mom says I was born “full grown” at 9+ lbs. Second of five girls. No dessert unless you finished dinner.
Or rather, no “D.E.” First it was D-E-S-S-E-R-T, spelled out to fool the baby, Jackie. When she caught on, we just shortened it to D-E. The baby is married now with teens in her household.
We lived in The Brown House until I was 10. The New House is where my folks still live. And for six months in-between, we lived in The Pink House, a rental with a mirror-opposite floor plan as The Brown House and a fuschia painted exterior. The Brown House had an O’Keefe & Merritt range, Westinghouse refrigerator, Sears washing machine. The clothesline was full daily, and at The New House, even though we were Movin’ on Up, my dad also built a clothesline, which is still there.
This is me and mom. Budget-conscious and hands-full, mom’s cooking was simple. Brisket, pork chops, spaghetti, tuna casserole or fish sticks on Fridays, fried chicken, exotic “chop suey” – stew meat, soy sauce and diced celery over white rice. Creamed carrots or green beans. Mashed or au gratin potatoes. Iceberg lettuce, Lawry’s Italian salad dressing. And milk. Always milk.
On my first day of kindergarten, food made it go better. Peanut butter cookies were baking in the cafeteria – an aroma with warm memories that still sneaks up on me today. This new place was suddenly not so bad. But the clincher were the teeny-tiny cartons of lukewarm milk. Child sized. Just for me. Loved that. Mom can go home now.
Peanut butter and Jackie’s birth went hand-in-hand. This was the fifth baby, and one or two of the remaining four girls had measles, so the rest of us went to Aunt Jackie’s (I always thought baby Jackie was named after Jackie Kennedy but it was probably this family friend). The only other place I believe we’d ever slept over was at Aunt Jan’s, who fed us normal food. Aunt Jackie put peanut butter on the toast. ??? So tasty, yet I sensed this broke some sort of rule. At home, PB was for lunch, spread on Wonder bread with Knott’s Berry Farm raspberry preserves. Toast was for butter and cinnamon sugar. Anticipating that my mom would have a cow about feeding us this, I felt bad for Aunt Jackie. On the contrary, back home, we were thus allowed to put PB on our own toast. Apparently, only little children are punished for food infractions.
The summer I was ten and Gretchen was seven, the two of us attended Camp Teresita Pines. (How do parents decide kids #2 and 3 will go to camp for a week, but not 1, 4 and 5?) Not my problem, I was GOING. Not only was it my first sleep-away camp, it was my first bus ride! At camp, I was only required to find Gretch once daily to shoot her with “OFF” bug repellant. This was gonna ROCK. But when our first camp meal rolled around, my enthusiasm came to a screeching halt. Three stewed prunes were REQUIRED eating. Gag, gag, nibble, gag, finally stuffed in a paper napkin and hid them. What kind of a camp of horrors did my mom send me to? Not a drop of milk in sight, I was positive mom didn’t know this. The only beverage was Bug Juice, a red punch I somehow got all over me resulting in 24/7 sticky for a week. I also experienced my first indigestion, thanks to tacos. Even though I was born and raised in LA, I’d never had one and these did a number on my belly. Yet, I think I enjoyed camp. My mom mailed me TWO letters that week, which confirmed that without me, her life was pretty dull.
When we were ‘tweens, dinner was added to our chores. Five girls bickering in the kitchen while parents savored gimlets in the living room. One kid to brown the meat. Others made vegetable, salad, set the table. Dinner consumed in a flash. Cleanup was the same crew, and drama never let up. “MAAAHHHMMM, JANIE ISN’T RINSING THE DISHES ENOUGH!”
Pork chops were standard dinner fare – have you ever browned pork chops? Takes for-ever in teen minutes. Oldest, Sue was a classic teen. Anything to goad the rest of us, she’d do. One meal, she browned the chops in about 3 seconds = yellow. “MAAAHHHMMM, SUE ISN’T BROWNING THE PORK CHOPS ENOUGH!” Lots of heated debate, which I truly believed disturbed our very pregnant cat. Mid-dinner, kitty jumped into Gretchen’s lap yowling in labor; Gretch screamed bloody murder. Dad got mommy cat into a towel-lined box and we witnessed the birthing of kittens — including one the exact color of Sue’s mystery meat. “Pork Chop” became a good family pet (Larry’s current cat, Penny, is that very same color).
–>Thanks for reading, please share YOUR food memories with me in a comment, won’t you?