(The following is a biographical excerpt from my book GROWING UP TOGETHER. It's not in the edition currently circulating, but will be in the next. I publish this on the week my mother died two years ago. Mom would have been 96 on April 2nd. We buried her on her 94th birthday. I think she'd have gotten a kick out of this section. Certainly, she wouldn't have denied it.)
It cannot be said we had a home without strife. There were a number of reasons, but high on the list was mom's cooking, I dare say. Her objective, especially since there were seven of us, was to always have something on the table, but she had a limited repertoire. The same meals were served on the same day of the week, every week. Spaghetti was always on Wednesday, a gummy encrusted substance called "fish" on Friday, wrinkled hot dogs and tomato soup on Saturday, and you never exactly knew when the tuna casserole with peas that tasted like raisins was coming--only that it would arrive soon. Our best bet was a plump chicken or soggy boiled beef on Sunday.
I may have ventured more than once to complain about the tuna casserole until her answer, "Eat it shut up or starve," let me know I'd gone too far. Though it did eventually disappear from the rotation; I'm not sure my younger brother Christopher ever made its acquaintance. She added to her recipes as the years went by.
When she was a young mother, she saw a television show on the dangers of trichinosis, the worm that infests pork. Consequently, she decided all meat needed to be cooked thoroughly. She hated the sight of blood. She didn't like to touch it. I don't know exactly what she had against seasoning, but rarely used it. My parents argued about nothing quite so regularly or with such vehemence. Naturally, it happened at the table with all those little eyes to see and big ears to hear.
Mom's version of a hamburger was either a golf ball or a hockey puck. This is unkind, I know, but true. A pork chop was cooked until it was black and crispy. She may have been the first to make potato chips with bacon. Liver smelled too much to cook and veal was out of the question due to its source. The occasional steak, a rare treat for dad, was hard to chew. Meat loaf, another of her specialties, achieved a rubbery consistency I've never found duplicated. Indeed, I was the kid who went to college but never complained about dorm food.
Dad railed against her. "Bettie, you did it again. I can't eat this. You ruined another good piece of meat!" I no longer recall how many times I heard him say those words, yet don't recall her ever saying she had any intention to meet his demands. When it came to meat, she never did, that much is certain. Her rejoinder, when his anger became more than she could bear was to say: "If you don't like it, cook it yourself." He never did. She could be as formidable as she was self-deprecating.
One summer, I experienced his frustration when I came home after a day working on the assembly line for General Motors. It was the most physically demanding job I ever had. I had to jump on trucks that were a couple of hundred degrees to sand the primer coat with a pneumatic grinder. It took awhile to scrape the resulting grime off my own body, but while doing so I smelled something cooking. My aunt Barbara's dog Gustav was staying with us at the time. I failed to notice him until mother lifted a steak from the grill, fat, red, and juicy--plopping it into his bowl. "He likes it like that," she said. "I'm reheating some macaroni and cheese for you."