Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How It All Began

So I first left home when I was 18 - my overdeveloped sense of independence needed to be indulged, so I moved away into a single unheated room, in a house whose electrical system was so delicate that I could not use a space heater without blowing a fuse. But I could smoke pot in my room - not like I could afford it now that I was paying rent - so it was all good for me.

But then my Dad had a heart attack, so I moved back to help out a bit and to live for two years rent-free. And it was then that, for the very first time, I gained some perspective on my mother, and exactly what flavor of bent she was.

She was emptying the dishwasher one day when I walked in to the kitchen. I was forced to do a quick double-take:  I thought I saw her take a frisbee out of the dishwasher. I looked away, looked back again, shook my head to get out any cobwebs that may have been there, but there it was: an actual frisbee being put away with the rest of the dishes.

"  What's with"

"Oh," she says without a hint of shame, "I like to use it as a serving plate.  High sides - nothing falls out."  And sure enough, our overcooked pork chops were served that evening off of a white frisbee.  It should be noted that in fact no pork chops fell out.

As it turns out, that was only the barest tip of the iceberg of crazy that is my mother. She obviously cares little for social convention; anyone who does would not, I should think, serve food on an old frisbee.  And not even a Frisbee brand flying disc - this had been a generic giveaway from the local grocery store some years previous, that being white, showed a grass stain or two from its days as a FUCKING FRISBEE.

She combines that particular quirk with an inability to cook so staggering that under other circumstances it would be tragic; as it it's just hysterical.  For my entire life at home, my vegetables came out of a can, my potatoes came out of a box, and my meat (tee hee) was overcooked to within an inch of its life. And it's not just that she grew tired of feeding us day after day; even special occasions were worthy of no better treatment.  Thanksgiving had for years been the responsibility of my Aunt, my Mom's sister, and all Mom had to do was supply the mashed potatoes. Rather than boil and peel perhaps 20 potatoes, she actually went with potato flakes.  For Thanksgiving!!

She shows a remarkable lack of knowledge on how food works.  In late 2000 I got a job that had me relocate back home, and I stayed with my folks for four gorgeous months while Tootsie closed up the house in Ohio.  I was 31 at the time, married for six years, and living back at the parents' house was about two steps removed from torture.  Anyway, I told my Mom that there was a jar of mangos in the fridge whose topmost mango had a big round dot of mold on it, perhaps the size of a quarter, and that I was going to be throwing it out.  My mother actually stopped me from doing this, saying "no, you just scrape the moldy part off; the rest is fine."

"Ma, it's not hard cheese, for chrissake, it's fruit in syrup.  Throw it away."

Nonsense, the look she gave me said.  She opened the jar, scraped the mold off the mango, and I swear to Buddha, popped that mango in her mouth like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Three seconds later, she spit the mango into the sink, followed almost immediately by the contents of her stomach into the same sink.  I raised my hand and said "Who here saw exactly what was coming?"

For years, when I'd convey to Toots that we were invited to dinner at their house, she'd say something like "Oh, I think we're busy that day moldy mangos..." And there was nothing else I could say; the conversation was justifiably closed.

There is not enough space here on this forum to give you an accurate picture of the gastric injustices she foisted upon me, especially in the four months that I was under her roof in 2000.  At that point I understood how food was supposed to taste, how one is supposed to cook meat, what freshly cooked vegetables tasted like, and how food is best when actually served the day it is cooked.

She said many things that immediately turned me crestfallen.  One day I called her and let her know not to hold up dinner for me, that I was going out with some friends. "Oh, hell," she said, "I've been defrosting a roasting chicken all day.  Honey!!" she called out to my dad. "Put that chicken back in the freezer, will you?"

Crest: fallen.  I was going to have to eat that twice-frozen death bird, and the worst part of it was that I wouldn't know when.

One day I came home to find a beautiful lamb roast sitting on the counter, resting. It glistened with juices.  The outside was seasoned with Rosemary and Thyme - I could see one and smell the other - and it looked like, for a miracle, it was cooked to perfection.  I took a knife out of the drawer to get a preview, salivating at the prospect of a good meal for a change.

"Don't touch the roast!" I hear from her little den.  "It's for tomorrow!"

Crest: fallen. It was a real question as to whether I should just put the knife away or run it over my wrists.

More later. You have to be helped in to this level of crazy, don't you?


  1. I've heard all these stories before, but they still give me a chuckle....I'm going to have to tell my story of your mom's chocolate truffles - hell I'll do it here and now.

    Gary would go to his mom's for dinner before poker night. One night he came with a bag of CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES. Oh. My. God. He said they were from his mom to give to the poker table. Awesome. An hour or so into it I was the first one to try one. Truffles are quite a mouthful (that's what she said!) and I popped the whole bad boy in and started was disgusting. Had to spit it out and upon investigation of the truffle bag, found out they'd expired a couple of years prior.

    I guess all those stories from Gary were true, I thought!

  2. Yeah - one time when Josie was at my mom's for dinner I had to steer her away from certain salad dressings that had expired during the Clinton administration.

    Come to think of it, I saved your life Josie! That ought to be worth something...

  3. At my house my dad did all the cooking and he was good at it. Every once in a while though he had to go on a business trip and my mom would be left to feed us. She only knew how to make two things...meatloaf that was more bread crumbs than meat and stuffed bell peppers. The stuffed bell peppers may have been delicious, but I never found out. I hated peppers when I was little, so I usually turned up my nose and got a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead.

    I recall pushing pieces of that dried meat-bread soaked in disgusting ketchup/jelly sauce around my plate until I was finally excused from the table. I just had to survive until morning so I could have my sugary breakfast cereal to kickstart the ADHD.

  4. My mom and/or my dad did not like garlic so it was never used in food when I grew up. Most of what we ate was bland. I never even had pepperoni on a pizza until I was in college.

    My dad liked to pour vinegar on all his vegetables. The smell was so bad. The funny thing is that now I adore salt and vinegar chips!

  5. @JT, whatever else could be said of my mom's cooking, she fed three hungry boys and never let us go hungry except here and there out of our choice. In my family it was my dad, rest his soul, whose thankfully-infrequent attempts at cooking are remembered with gentle derision. The buckwheat pancakes that tasted like sponges come to mind.

    And @Lightning, while we're on the subject of my father, HIS favorite spice was cinnamon - he put it on everything from his salad, to his steak, to his rice, to his piece of pie for dessert. I miss him like fire, but I don't miss the cinnamon.