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the Family supper|
The Infamous Family Supper
Oh, it has to happen. … It might be Thanksgiving, might be Chanukah, Christmas, a huge reunion, a birthday bash or a rehearsal dinner, but it does ultimately, like all the great unavoidables, happen: The Family Supper
It is to you … the scared, the injured, the broken relics of family suppers gone horribly wrong whom I dedicate today’s show. I thought perhaps by sharing my own story, you might feel just a little better about your own.
For the first 16 years of my life (that is before I dyed my hair pink and ran away from home favor of a low-rent hotel known for its murder rate … long story; won’t go there), I was subjected to family suppers.
This entailed metal folding chairs with plastic cushions -- part of the deluxe dinette Mom bought at the Grant’s going-out-of-business sale. Anyone old enough to remember Grant’s?
Mom would throw down a plastic tablecloth that met her “wonderful” test for kitchen items, meaning it could be wiped with a sponge.
The plastic cloth was too thick to fold down, so the 4 inches that overlapped the tables stuck out, keeping us 4 inches from our supper, but I didn’t mind. Another 4 inches from my family was fine with me.
On the wonderful, spongeable cloth were bright, 1970s flowers that were the backdrop to my childhood. My childhood memories are paved in fuchsias and paisley.
Mom always served kosher roast chicken. She informed us, despite our requests for a normal meal on the holidays, that none of us liked turkey, and that’s why.
My mom had a little rule: Anything that took longer then two hours to defrost was rejected.
The kosher chicken was almost always accompanied by asparagus out of the can. I was 16 before I learned that asparagus came any other way, and that its natural color was, in fact, green.
Salad was always the same: iceberg lettuce, no dressing, ’cause dressing is, you know, weird. On the salad would be a pile of raw onions and slabs of tomatoes cut so thick, you could dislocate your jaw if you tried to eat them without cutting first.
Sis always went for the raw onions. She discovered at the age of 6 that if she bit into a raw onion and ate it and appeared to like it, it would bring horror and shock to all those around her. For this reason she forced herself to adore raw onion and ate them ever after. That is, of course, until she started dating.
Mom was a double-entrée kind of lady, so the chicken was usually accompanied by what she called beef, and what was in fact a hunk of sirloin cooked for so long that one had to scrape off burnt charcoal before eating it.
When we complained, Mom always said the same thing: “Charcoal is good for you! I do this because I care!”
We did the only thing one could do when it was time to devour a piece of scorched cardboard: We covered it with ketchup, compliments of a bowl filled with McDonald’s ketchup packets Mom had pilfered.
This meal was accompanied by another family delight Mom referred to as “duck bread.”
Some of the bakeries in places along the shore that had town ponds and town ducks and geese would sell day-old bread in garbage bags for a dollar. The bread was meant as duck food, of course but nonetheless, garbage bags filled with eight to 10 loaves of bread would find their way to our freezer and our dinner table.
When I was 6, a goose chased me three blocks, trying to bite my tuchas. To this day, I’m convinced he knew we were the ones eating all his bread.
We had cranberry sauce just once. It sat there, this red, can-shaped thing wiggling almost imperceptibly in the breeze. I had nightmares that the red cylinder was chasing me. In them, I ran screaming, and it just slinky-ed menacingly behind me ... bong, bong, bong. ...
But our family suppers were never just about the food. The main dish was really guilt. Each dish brought to the table was garnished with a sermon about how long my mom suffered to make it
or how far she had to travel to find kosher meat
After the audience was seated, the Ross family symphony began the overture:
Huge sucking sounds from my father’s gigantic bites … Dad could down a meal in three swallows and ask for seconds before I was halfway into my beef jerky.
Wordless, otherworldly songs from my brother who sang as he played with his food.
The chorus came from my sister, who just stared at her food and asked for money: “The new Barbie is out!” “I can’t go to school without frosted lipstick!”
Mom played bass, expelling Mom-normous amounts of gas, with an uncanny ability to do so just as I took a mouthful of food.
“Mom!” we would yell, shoving Burger King napkins into our noses.
“Leave me alone; I have a condition!” she would respond.
After satisfying herself that she had ruined any chance of us tasting what little flavor remained in our overprocessed, overcooked meal, she would relax. This was the signal for the family symphony to begin the second movement: child-lecturing in B-flat.
“Would it kill you to help your mother once in a while?” “When I was your age, I supported my parents, working two jobs and going to school!”
One year, my parents did something unheard of in my family: they invited a guest to dinner. It was Thanksgiving, and our neighbor, an elderly man we kids called Mr. T came to supper.
Mr. T was happy at first, thinking that a meal with a real family was much better than the one he usually attended at his church. Shortly thereafter, he assumed that dazed look usually reserved for those driving by a really bad traffic accident.
Maybe the plastic silverware got to him. It might have been the Entenmann’s turkey cake Mom got on special because someone sat on it. He left early, saying something about a job he had to do, and never dined with us again. The man had options.
I was perhaps the only quiet member of the family orchestra, but then my job was always as more of an observer. I considered myself then, as I do today, the family anthropologist.
My mission, like that of all great historians and Andean plane crash survivors, was simple: I had to survive at all costs to tell the story.
And so I have…
I hope all this will make you all feel just a little better if you are alone.
Remember … it could always be worse.
All material © copyright 2001-3, Rossi
But wait! There's more!
the Family supper
The Last Road Trip
Cabbage and Noodles
Days of Awe
Rabbis and Mozzarella
The Guilt Wheel
The Breakfast March
TOTALLY COMPLETELY AND ABSOLUTELY NORMAL
Miss New Jersey
Ramada Inn Makes Nice Soap
Buying a Piece of Jackie
Introduction to Memoirable ... Return to Kingston Avenue