My father grew up in a
Irish-catholic family of 9,
In the city of San Francisco,
so his comfort food was
usually canned- he would
and I would say “mushy.”
Later, I would barely recognize
the diarrhea green spinach,
the small skinless egg potatoes,
the orangish spaghetti-Os and
pungent Dinty-Moore stew that Dad
swore was the best food.
My mother grew up poor,
but in rural areas,
where you could collect
collard and mustard greens
on the side of the road,
you had your own chickens,
and a backyard garden
that you put up in canning jars
to stretch thinner winter meals.
Then you saved the bacon grease
to make tasty gravy for the
country biscuits she punched
out of the simple dough
with a water glass.
She clipped coupons
and made mystery meatloaf,
complex left-over casseroles,
and special twice baked potatoes
for our best meals.
We got our raw milk delivered, and
mom used to get mad at us,
when we would drink the cream
off the top of the bottle,
or the milkman forgot to leave
the cottage cheese she ordered.
Frosted flakes and Lucky charms
began to supplant the special K
Cheerios, and corn flakes that were probably
a good deal more healthy, but
not nearly so brightly colored,
nor brilliantly advertised.
Mom began to work longer hours
outside the house,
but her deep values,
of at least tasting everything once, and
of sitting together every evening stayed.
We’d discuss how our days went,
as we talked with our mouths open,
elbows and more on the table,
laughed until milk squirted out
of my little brother’s nose,
or being told that reading didn’t belong
in the family circle,
previewing my forbidding
of phones with my grown children.
And there was always at
least one extra dinner guest
because growing up with scarcity
made my mama want to share
with any hungry body
what we had gathered in our kitchen.
Later we would beg to go
to the new cool restaurant
with its chocolate shakes, orange soda
and Fish fillet sandwiches with tartar sauce.
Sometimes my parents would
allow us to have the cool, space age TV dinners-
all packaged, shiny and ready to go!
Or, if we were going camping in the Sierras
we would stop at the “5 for $1” hamburger stand,
then scarf up mom’s camping stew, Tang,
Kraft Macaroni and cheese,
and blueberry pancakes on the camp stove.
Somehow eating outside always made us more hungry-
And the smells, more tantalizing.
We had a local pizzeria, that knew
our family’s Friday night order-
2 large specials-
to this day my brother goes out of his
way when visiting to stop and pick up
a couple of slices of warm nostalgia.
We traditionally had huge
Thanksgivings, in which 40-60
people (any strays) would bring their own
favorite childhood traditions to share,
and over the years we knew
that aunt Melissa would make sweet potato pie,
aunt Patty would whip up real whipped cream,
uncle Mike would carve the turkeys,
and Diane and family would bring creamed corn
and special mashed potatoes.
But mom always had to make the stuffing,
because no one makes it like mom.