OK, I know a lot of people like these dishes and I’m not dissing you. But I hate them.
“What’s for dinner?” I might ask home from school.
If one of these was the answer I knew I was in for a salt-laden hell.
“Tuna casserole.” My mom never used noodles. She used potato chips.
“Creamed chipped beef on toast.” It didn’t just taste like someone had stirred pieces from the bottom of the Great Salt Lake in a pan with flour and milk, it looked horrible.
“I just can’t make you happy,” she said when I groaned or (oh my god!) didn’t eat (much) of the portion on my plate.
My dad called creamed chipped beef “army food” but he liked it. My brother liked it. My mom liked it, but I hated it. “You’re just fussy,” my mom.
There were other gross looking dishes that weren’t quite as terrible to eat. Creamed hard boiled eggs on toast.
Hamburger gravy on mashed potatoes.
Then there was boiled beef and potatoes which stank up the house. Even after all day in the pot, the beef might still be chewy. It might also fall apart. No way to know. When I was very small and didn’t understand three dimensions, I tried to hide it by sticking it under my plate where, at least, I couldn’t see it.
“Take that good meat out from under your plate, put it on your plate and eat it.” Followed by, “You’re going to sit there until you finish your supper.” It was a test of wills at that point.
I think my mom was a good cook, but the foods she enjoyed were just different from those I enjoyed. In order to make this blog post a little bit more interesting and less about my own personal experience, I did a little research into why taste preferences vary between people. I didn’t get any surprising information. Some of it is based on the associations we have with a particular food.
My mom grew up on a farm during the Depression, and I think creamed chipped beef on toast might have been both a treat and a kind of comfort food for her. In my mom’s world, as she was growing up, there were no refrigerators. Dried, salted meat was safe meat. I took a survey years ago. Not a Facebook quiz, but a legit quiz to determine what people believed was the greatest invention of the 20th century. Among the choices was refrigeration.
The boiled beef and potatoes? Home food for my mom. She lived in a world replete with vegetables but where meat could be scarce, and definitely not the fancy cuts.
I can’t speak to the tuna casserole except maybe she didn’t have taste receptors as sensitive to salt as I do. I guess that could be a product of our individual DNA, or her chain smoking.
My mom liked to cook and over time she tried out a lot of new recipes and made many delicious meals, but the memory of these old standbys from my school years could never be erased by prime rib and Yorkshire pudding. The was the ever present possibility of their return. I started cooking at age 7. My mom knew a good thing when it happened to her. She took advantage of what seemed to be my aptitude for the culinary arts and started teaching me. I was able to make stuff I liked like tacos and spaghetti (not together).
They each had a dime and a bicycle. They were six years old.
“Can I go with Susan to ride bikes?”
“Where are you going?”
Maggie held out her dime. Susan held out her dime.
“You be home in 30 minutes.” Mom knew perfectly well neither kid could tell time. She just felt a little better putting a time limit on it than saying, simply, openly, “Yes.” She smiled to hide a kernel of fear, but she had to let her little girl go. She knew it, but… “Don’t spend it all in one place,” she added, laughing,
Mom made no sense.
Susan’s bike was small, blue and shiny new. Maggie’s bike was big, red and a little rattlely and she had to ride it standing up, but so what?
The little girls raced the whole two blocks OUT OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD into the NEXT NEIGHBORHOOD with its taller trees, older houses and tidy Methodist church with its steeple. O Brave New World! Maggie and Susan’s neighborhood wasn’t even finished when they moved in.
They leaned their bikes against the wall beside the door and went inside where it was dark and cool. Susan went right to the wire baskets of penny candy.
“I like these and these and these,” she said pointing. “We can have ten.”
Maggie had never seen anything like this. Her knowledge of candy was limited to the Russell Stover boxes that occasionally and mysteriously appeared in their house. “You can have one. And just pick. Don’t stick your finger into it to see what it is.” It was a crapshoot. Maybe she’d pick a gross maple one. She would rather not have any than have that. Ewwww.
And Hallowe’en? She and her little brother got to eat two pieces from their bag and the rest went into a tin her mom kept on the top shelf over the sink. Once in a GREAT while, they got a piece of that. Add to that, she’d never had a dime before. This one was from the tooth fairy. Soon she learned she couldn’t hold ten pieces of candy in her hands.
The store owner came over to them and asked, “Can I help you ladies?” Maggie looked up and handed him her candy. He could hold it easily in his big hand. “How about you miss, are you doing all-right?” Susan nodded and gave him her candy. They followed him to the counter and handed over their precious (real silver) dimes. He put each girl’s candy in its own little paper bag. “Thank you, ladies. Come back soon!”
“Has it been 30 minutes?” asked Maggie.
“I don’t know,” said Susan, shrugging. They got back on their bikes and rode back to their neighborhood.
“Let’s see what you got for all that money,” said mom. Maggie opened the bag and poured her treasure onto the white metal kitchen table. “You can have one, honey. The rest is going with the Hallowe’en candy, OK?”
Maggie nodded. She looked at the pile of candy and tried to choose. Finally she chose something called “Necco,” a cylinder of incredibly dry and tasteless sugar smashed into disks. She spit it out.
“Can I try another one?” she asked Mom who shook her head.
“There’s a good reason that stuff only costs a penny, honey. Next time, save your dimes until you can get something you really want.”
“I’m going to have more dimes?”
“Do you have any loose teeth?”
Maggie trailed her tongue around the rim of her teeth, checking. “No.”
I love Denver. I was born in Denver. I lived there until I was 8 and returned to Denver at least twice a year to visit my Aunt Martha when I was a kid. When we moved back to Colorado, I took every opportunity I could to stay with my Aunt Martha in her apartment in Capitol Hill in Denver. I moved to Denver for college, left for three years to study in Boulder and returned to Denver. Denver was my home and also the world from which I fledged.
I also hated Denver. It was small. The world I wanted was so much larger and I wanted it so badly that I had to get out of there. I left for good in 1984 and didn’t return often. But it was always Denver whether I wanted to go there or not, and as long as my Aunt Martha lived there, I had a reason to return.
I haven’t really been back since I returned to Colorado five years ago. I have had a couple of peripheral jaunts to the general area, but not to see the personal sites that are engraved on my heart, places where I lived, where my family lived, streets that were my home streets. For some reason Denver felt like an alien place and I didn’t feel welcome there. I don’t know why. It had changed? Of course it changed, and somehow it felt like a betrayal (as if I had not changed? Ha ha)
So, having arranged to have lunch with a very old friend and his awesome wife, having found a spot on Colfax (America’s Main Street) that looked like a good spot, and The Who having cancelled and the whole trip suddenly becoming much simpler, my friend Lois and I went up there today.
We didn’t take the freeway (which Coloradans call “the Interstate”) we took the old back roads and our drive was peaceful and beautiful. We arrived at the suburban periphery and I began to recognize landscapes, though now covered with houses. Lois was subjected to a lot of that, “This used to be” and “We used to go” and all that stuff we humans do in the throes of nostalgia, and she was patient.
I still know Denver. It’s still Denver. I drove to my places as if I had never stopped driving to them, routes as familiar to me as the palm of my hand.
I have a lot to process and cannot write well about it yet, but we went past many of my old apartment buildings and my Aunt’s townhome and saw Mt. Evans and had lunch on a street that really defies description, still. I’ll probably write a post sometime about Sundays on Colfax, but not now.
Some of you might know Denver as a city where Kerouac hung out with Neal Cassady and on the building where we had lunch was a mural of Jack and Neal. It reminded me of a mural that used to be on one of the outside walls of City Lights Bookstore in North Beach in San Francisco. So… Colfax is mentioned in On the Road.
I used to walk to work every day (because, you know, air pollution and global warming and stuff) and every day I passed the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. But back then I didn’t enter Catholic Churches.
It happened that today the church was right across the street from our restaurant and after eating, we all went into the cathedral which was an oasis of cleanliness, peace, light and gentle baroque music on that strange dingy street that is Colfax on Capitol Hill. I thought to myself how much life has passed since the days I walked home past this church without ever entering and how now, among other experiences including writing about Catholicism in a very friendly way, I have heard mass in Latin at the Basilica San Ambrogio in Milan.
It turns out that the first Monsignor of the church was originally from Milan and educated in Switzerland. My friend’s wife brought this to my attention and I felt a chill, as if a circle had closed and I could not have entered that building before that moment.
And then I thought of how we begin — how I began — and decided a life spent overturning biases and ignorance is a pretty good life. And it’s a pretty good life that allows you to return with your sister/friend down country roads to visit your deepest personal roots on a sunny Sunday. To have lunch with a man you’ve known for 52 years and his soul mate, all wrapped up in the city of your heart.
Can’t write much about this topic of marbles. You see, I’ve lost mine. 🙂
My mom had a huge collection of marbles, I mean real, legit marbles, that she’d confiscated from her students during her years as a teacher. The best one was a shooter, an actual real and truly “Aggie” — made from an agate. There were all kinds and they were really beautiful — except the “steelies” which were, uh, steel, and broke other kid’s marbles. “We didn’t allow those on our playground,” she said which accounted for a comparatively large number of them in the bag. I still have the deerskin marble bag, but she never let us play with those marbles. She gave me the bag for my jacks and put the marbles in a jar on a high shelf. Strange to me thinking of it now, but I think they were her souvenir of a time in her life and maybe each little marble represented a kid in one of her classes, to her. I don’t know. I don’t know if kids even play marbles any more — they weren’t very popular when I was a little kid.
There was a gender break — girls played Jacks; boys played marbles. Why? What was that about? All of life’s mysteries and some of them are deeply trivial.
I have ONE marble — an orange cat’s eye I found in my garden when I turned over the dirt when I moved in.
In other political news (what?) and lost marbles, anyone else interested in setting up a completely new but secret government and slowly siphoning power away from DC and turning THAT into a reality show without any of them knowing? Message me if you are.