(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."

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Comment by moki ikom on April 1, 2018 at 10:31am

that's funny, makes me silently laugh upon reflecting about what foods made their way to be demolished by forks and spoons at our family table,, and also makes me realize just how infrequent-to-never it is for most of my life since then that everyone in the family sits down and eats together.

I never tired of potatoes and eggs mixed together as it seems that was one meal we five kids could always fill up on and it was the my dad's signature deal.  Being that he was the youngest of eight or so kids in a poorer than dirt family in the northeast mountains of Tennessee he could no doubt appreciate simple but satiating food.  At the top of my list for wanting to go to a military academy after high school was the idea of getting three meals a day, after that was the idea that my being sent to vietnam was not likely to be as an immediate a thing as if i didn't get in the academy.  The most lingering memory i have from elementary school is the smell from the school cafeteria kitchen of the yeast rolls cooking for school lunch.  We lived on the opposite side of the school's huge playground so i would go home for lunch and never got to eat one of those rolls.  The chow at the academy was everything i dreamed of and more and ironically while there i had to spend a lot of chowtime dreaming about it because sitting on three or less inches of chair, braced up, eyes forward answering upperclassmens' stupid questions in between their mouthfulls of wonderfully odiferous morsels didn't make for me a satisfied belly.  The one time i attempted to sneak inside my shirt a bread roll back to the barracks I got busted and it costs me somewhere around a thousand push ups before i graduated to the next infraction for which i had to pay a similar price; sometimes however the price for infractions was to attend the mandatory chowtime, braced up as usual, eyes forward, passing bowls and platters allowed to serve myself none, being humiliated, made an example of and dismissed after the stewards had removed all the leftovers and dinner ware. Flashbacks,, to flash forward and one sees what one's 'great' country is condoning in Yemen... at least the Saudi royals are getting their fill, it may not be cannibalism though cannibalism would at least show a greater respect for humanity.

Comment by Julie Johnson on April 1, 2018 at 6:52pm

*deep sighs*

Food stories..., thanks Ben Sen. I like stories.  Moki and Monkey, you usually tell some good ones. 

Me?  

I remember mostly the delicious pies and pastries and breads, that's from my early childhood.  I was born a princess.  First grandchild of the oldest children, on both sides.  One side Norwegian and the other Dutch and English, farm families 3rd generation to NDak.  Lots of butter, and good farm cream, oats with brown sugar, that sort of thing.  Church suppers, and lots of casseroles.  Then, my mom dies and we moved to town, my dad took over the cooking for the next 3 years. Hot dogs, and canned spaghetti...Anything that came out of can, chow mein was his big treat.  I will NOT eat shaved beef on toast, not then, not now, not ever.  He got good deals at the PX, I guess.  Now that I think about it.  Lots of those big bags of generic puffed rice, and wheat.  Powdered milk. Not bad, but not great.  He started dating, and all the single women would try to get to him thru his stomach, and his children.  Here come the pies and the cakes again. Good times...

When my dad finally did get remarried, my new Norwegian grandma ...oh, she was a good cook!  LOVED christmases thanksgivings, Easter!  mmmm mmmm mmmm....Her specialties were candies, divinities and fudge.  

Funny, you mention trichinosis.  That was such a big thing growing up, worrying about trichinosis.  My daughter is in Culinary school now, and she mentioned that it's basically been irradiated, but I'll still never eat pork or chicken unless it's dry, dry, dry...

  

Comment by Ben Sen on April 2, 2018 at 6:26am

Moki, Foolish Monkey and Julie Johnson:  Thank you so much for adding your recollections.  It makes the project feel worthwhile.

Comment by J.P. Hart on April 2, 2018 at 7:43am

Too infrequently I sport about with a semi-retired Bosnian Psychiatrist. More than once he mentioned the importance (paramount thing, thing at hand, the fork) is to eat slowly chew well without distractions. Nowadays I'm the last to put the white linen on the plate. And I'm also thinking of her brittle diabetes, how she sailed on home to Jesus, her gone ballerina legs restored at once in the Kingdom of God, and of me safe and warm on terra firma 'worried' which-what color to paint the kite, still hearing yesterday's Herb Alpert's Fool on the Hill, and was there wine, dear Ben Sen?
Once the check clears I'm gonna distribute little food cards at the Rescue Mission. Probably cause I did about 90 hours of telephone work with the captain of a food boat trying to dock in Bangladesh. Factor had let the winch. I recollect it is a pay go system in order to moor.
Ben Sen we look forward to your inspirational writing. Thank you; you know, supper's on the stove . . . countless thousands quantifiable on the road.

Comment by Ben Sen on April 3, 2018 at 6:12am

Hart:  You're a gazelle leaping on the plains on the Serengeti.  Thanks

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