Blogging University Day 10 and 11
Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.
Tell us about the home where you lived when you were twelve. Which town, city, or country? Was it a house or an apartment? A boarding school or foster home? An airstream or an RV? Who lived there with you?
With trying to edit my first novel and sending out queries and starting my second novel, plus reading samples from my critique group and, well, critiquing them, I decided to try and knock out two days of the writing challenges in one blog.
I do this because, in a way, these two challenges are connected for me. Telling about my favorite childhood meal stems from the fact that there weren’t a lot of meals when I was growing up, until I turned twelve and my stepfather came into the picture. However, this doesn’t quite turn out the way you think.
Growing up we didn’t have regular meals. My breakfast usually consisted of some sugary cereal or Poptarts. Lunch was usually the school lunch and we all remember those days. Rubbery hamburgers, mac and cheese, square cold pizza, greasy tater-tots. I was always considered a finicky eater. But who could blame me?
Dinners? Dinners usually consisted of a can of beef-a-roni or a frozen TV dinner that took forever to cook in the oven. But hey, it was food and who was I to complain.
I grew up in a small 860 square foot bungalow home on the outskirts of town. It was just my mother and I. We had a one-car garage, but no car and a backyard with a swing set that abutted the public service land where the electricity poles went through. We lived in Manchester, New Hampshire on the north end almost into Hooksett.
My parents had been divorced since I could remember and the year before I turned twelve my mother started dating the man who would become my stepfather. It wasn’t a good relationship. They were both alcoholics. I think what made it worse was that he had children, most of whom were much older, but one who was six years younger. The year I turned twelve, my mother and her boyfriend married.
The first thing my stepfather said to my mother was, “Get rid of the kid, the cat and the dog and our marriage will be fine.” From there it only got worse.
My mother and stepfather fought every day, arguments that usually turned to blows. The two bedrooms upstairs did not have doors and the new stepsister would constantly invade my privacy. Looking back she was probably only looking for some type of solace from the bickering going on below us, but having been a single child up to this point I wanted nothing to do with the new sibling. Of course, if I just looked at her sideways she would wine and I would immediately be accused of bothering her, instead of the other way around, which only served to annoy me more.
Twelve is a tough age. It is when I hit puberty. I began to grow and my body changed. My mother, being self-absorbed in this new destructive relationship wasn’t much help. Previously, the little bit of food I ate sustained me. All of a sudden I was hungry all the time.
My stepfather had been the primary cook in his first marriage and chose to cook meals on the weekends. Since both of them spent a majority of the time drinking they didn’t not eat a lot of weekday meals and the food my stepfather allowed into the house was not the same food I had grown up with. Having had mostly bland meals, the new menu did not meet my palette. Spaghetti sauces that contained more peppers and onions than sauce, baked beans that contained chicken wings(?) and foods like sauerkraut and liver were common meals and I chose to go hungry instead.
The one meal I looked forward to came in the summer time. My mother would pull out the charcoal grill, light the coals and let them get hot. Then she would lather a cheap steak with lots of barbecue sauce and cook it until the meat separated from the bones. Then she would whip real mash potatoes and open a can of peas. This was my favorite meal.
That summer my mother rented a cabin at the beach and invited my stepfather’s two older daughters to come stay with us. At that time, they didn’t like my mother anymore than I liked my stepfather. They were not afraid to take out their hatred on me.
Being of very pale Irish skin, one day at the beach, my mother and stepfather left to go back to the cabin before lunch (after all, you’re not allowed to drink beer on the beach) and left me in their care. My mother asked that they bring me back when I felt I was getting too warm. That was my cue that I was starting to burn and that was something I did very well.
Sure enough, within in hour I could feel my skin heating up and asked that they take me back to the cabin and they refused. We stayed on the beach for a couple more hours then they decided to go for pizza. The only pizza I was every exposed to were those pre-mentioned frozen square things you get at school. I wasn’t sure I liked “real” pizza from a pizza restaurant. As we waited in line, my new stepsisters asked what type of pizza I would like, to which I answered Cheese. The conversation that followed included comments about how plain cheese pizza was only good for dogs. I’m not sure if I was more hurt by their remarks or concerned that they wouldn’t buy the cheese pizza and I would go hungry yet again.
By the time we got back to the cabin, I was sunburn (to a crisp, my mother would say), but at least I had eaten some pizza, which turned out to be okay, since it was only dog food and not “real” pizza anyway.
My mother was not pleased, but she never stood up for me or said anything. I refused to leave the cabin after that and if I recall correctly, my stepfather made us all go home early before our week was up.
At thirteen I left my childhood home to move in with my father and stepmother. It was a good move and the meals were healthy and regular.
Years later, when my mother passed away, the house fell to me. I thought for a time about keeping it, but then decided against it. Once in a while I will drive by my old home and remember some of the good times I had there. After all, I did have a backyard with a swing set.