Archive for December, 2012

nativitygrandma M


Excerpt partially drawn from memoir, Come Back Down to Earth, You Little Twit

Being the youngest in my family meant sitting in the trunk of our wagon.  While the rest of the brood faced forward and conversed, pinched, had burping contests and a grand old time, I was in quarantine.  Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we went while I perched miles behind my dear family, catching only bits and pieces of WRFM’s instrumental radio hits.  I sat deep in a well, zero window control options, sliding all over a miniature bench prior to laws mandating seat belts.  My only company was the bulk goods, food or suitcases we were transporting to our destination for my big arse family.  The worst trunk seating offense, I must say, was staring at oncoming traffic.  I mean come on.  Even today I have a hard time deciding where to look when I stroll past a stranger. I might decide to look them in the eye and extend a friendly hello but what if they don’t reciprocate?  I’ll chastise myself for being overly friendly and simultaneously feel disgusted in said stranger’s lack of manners.  No, not often worth it… except when they smile back and bid a, ‘Hello to you!’ Yes, the warm goofy feeling one gets on the inside, all because of a simple greeting.

On those rides, as I sat in the wagon’s well, I was curious to see who was bearing down on our vehicle yet still reticent about making eye contact.  Most strangers would do their best to ignore the weird curly haired kid gazing at them but every once in a while I’d receive a smile. I would smile back from beneath my eyelashes, ‘Aren’t these drivers the nicest?’ A light or so later, feeling I knew them well, I might wave a bit.  They would nod to their spouse, ‘Oh look dear, the kid stuck in the trunk is waving.’  But, at around light fifteen things got tough.  By this time both the steering wheel stranger and I were trying to figure out how to blow off this uncomfortable relationship.  Sometimes I would just slide down on my seat and wait for a sharp right or left turn, or the tick tick tick as we changed lanes on the parkway.  Freed from my discomfort I would slide back up.  Guilt would ensue, however, when I realized they had changed lanes as well.  I had made it clear, by ducking and hiding, that I didn’t want to be their eye contact buddy anymore.  I would have to live with what I perceived as a deflated stare until we finally took an exit.  If we were stuck on the Garden State Parkway, in Jersey Shore traffic, Fugetaboutit.

Often that’s where we were, on the GSP heading to or from my paternal grandparent’s home.  Their abode was in Silver Ridge Park, a little manicured neighborhood for well over 50’s folk, circa 1970’s.  Whether it was Christmas Eve or a few days prior, I recall these road trips especially the return ride home.  Lying in the back of the wagon, the thump, thump of the parkway strumming in my ears my mind would drift off.  My siblings would jostle me to alertness and tell me to watch for Rudolph’s nose.  ‘I think I just spotted it,’ Jeff would say, and the search was on.  I always caught a glimpse.  Just when my eyes were getting heavy my gaze would happen upon a strong red glow.  Certainly that’s not a plane.  I would stare until the crimson stream of light faded into the distance. 

When we were almost home and if sleep had not taken me, I would pretend.  ‘Oh, is Kathleen asleep?’ With knowing smiles on their face mom and dad would shift their ragdoll into position.  I would be lifted up by dad, carried to my second floor room and placed in my bed.  My kids have reverted to this same trickery though my oldest mostly just fell asleep.  It was a favorite undertaking of mine to carry that guy up to bed.  When I was pregnant with my second angel, my husband having joined our little family a year before, I had to pass off this treasured task.  Though hubby lofted my oldest up with love and care and placed him in bed just as effectively, I was saddened.  I knew I only had a short window left to carry my first born.  Maturity and embarrassment would prohibit this type of mommying soon.   Now he’s 19 and I ask for his help carrying his youngest brother.  Boy number three is a rock solid tank.  My back and I are happily resigned to tucking him in and allowing the heavy loaders to commence transport.

Whereas I recall good food, loving hugs and that thump, thump parkway ride when I think of my father’s parents, for Christmas Eve, I remember more vividly spending the night with my mom’s mother, Grandma McNabb. 

Grandma’s home was a three story structure on Sanford Avenue in the Vailsburg section of Newark.  My mother’s family had moved to this street in May of 1944.  In the 1970’s grandma would sell her first Sanford home and purchase my Aunt Jo’s house on the same block.  Regretfully, in 1981 grandma was mugged walking just outside her home.  The decision was made to leave this neighborhood that held so many memories for her.  These days there are many within the community of greater Newark putting time and great effort into revitalizing the city.  Hopefully mom’s old stomping grounds have turned a corner.

Grandma was a formidable lady.  She had religious conviction, strength and was always impeccably dressed down to her clip on earrings. Make that up to her clipped on earrings.  My mother remarked recently that she wished I had a better impression of grandma.  I was young when she passed away but had watched and listened.  I was always listening to the conversations between the two of them or anybody in my household. 

Mom struggled to make grandma happy but as grandma aged she fell prey to hypochondriasis. Though not alone in the effort, mom, who lived closest to grandma, tried to pacify each new ailment, fright or slight.  My grandmother, on the other hand, tended to poo poo my mom for not doing enough.  Mom was doing enough, of course, with seven kids and a job to boot.  Grandma just placed her fears and frustrations on our mother because she needed an outlet.  I can see the cycle now but as a little kid my back went up in defense.  When I saw tears in mom’s eyes as she hung up the phone…my grandmother’s hard life and elderly fears were not registered.  In my youthful naivety all I knew was grandma upset my wonderful mom.

Grandma McNabb did not have an easy life.  My Grandpa Donnelly, mom’s father, passed away when my mother was only eight leaving grandma to raise five children in depressed financial times.  Needless to say caring for multiple children on a single salary, a woman’s salary which given the era was far from lucrative, was difficult.  Still, their family dynamic fostered a very capable, compassionate and independent Joan Marie.  Mom’s amazing person is greatly due to the life she had growing up.

Grandma remarried, became Marie McNabb, and brought one additional child into the world.  I wish I had the chance to know her now, as an adult.  My life experiences have given me a new perspective.  I’m far less critical of what I see on the surface.  Everybody has a story and most people have a whole lot of good in them.  To sit down today and have a conversation with this woman…what a privilege that would be.    

There was not always contention; on the contrary, most of my memories revolve around grandma’s home on Christmas Eve and they’re happy reveries indeed.

Along with my cousins we would arrive at Grandma’s for Christmas Eve dinner.  If you’ve read any of my blog or memoir you’ll know that our family loves a good holiday roast.  Grandma’s roast, hands down, was one of the most delicious I’ve ever tasted. 

I remember little about the Sanford Avenue rooms except they were cozy and immaculate.  When we arrived the scent of sauerbraten permeated her house and radiators hissed away the cold.  Being a product of forced hot air the occasional spew of steam would often surprise me.  I loved it.  Chuckle candies would be eaten and carols would be sung.  I recall one Christmas Eve singing Silent Night to the crowds, multiple times, probably more times than anyone wanted, in my highest soprano. Gifts were most likely exchanged though this activity doesn’t come to mind.  There is a gift receipt, however, that I’ve kept with me these many years.  In 1977 grandma gave me, ‘A Child’s Story of the Nativity.’  Never had I seen such beautiful renderings, each illustration created in soft shades with outlines in iridescent gold.  The story of Jesus’ birth was unfolded in these mesmerizing pages.  Inscribed with grandma’s, ‘Merry Christmas’, I‘ve managed to hold onto this treasure for 35 years.  

My favorite part of visiting grandma’s Vailsburg home was attending midnight mass.  Given my age and lateness of the celebration I’m sure there were occasions when in slumber I was carried to and from, my Christmas best sticking out from beneath my coat.  When I was wide awake for the event, however, I recall family bundling up and walking the blocks leading to Sacred Heart Church.  Inside I would admire the walls of stained glass.  The colors and heartfelt depictions of God and saints engaged me.  The voices coming together in familiar song, led by a practiced and heavenly choir, lulled me.  It’s during these settings at church, even today, where song, family and an uncommon radiance come together to humble me and remind me of a greater power.  Remind me how blessed I truly am. 

My ultimate joy during these masses, however, was in a little white candle.  Though my age could be counted on two hands…even I, a child, was given the responsibility of a lighted candle.  I held it with great care, no fussing with my siblings or daydreaming.  I was truly part of this moment as my small hands and a vast congregation came together in prayer, proclaiming the light.     

Years later in grandma’s new apartment we continued to enjoy many Christmas Eve celebrations.  Though the backdrop differed the smell of sauerbraten continued to float through the air while cousin MaryJo, and I, crept into grandma’s bedroom to dial Santa… 976-3636.  Still, it’s the memory of my family clustered together in Sacred Heart Church, and my little white candle, that shines brightest in my Christmas Eve reveries.



Read Full Post »

…and he, he himself, the Grinch, carved the roast beast.


Holiday Meals with the Karls

…WARNING don’t put your fingers in the cage!

Short story excerpt from memoir; Come Back Down to Earth, You Little Twit


The Karl family loves our food.  The frenzy of hungry mouths, grasping hands at feeding time, particularly during many a family party, is a sight to be seen even today, though time, age and that dirty word called cholesterol have mellowed us out a bit.  I recall the first time my husband witnessed my dad and brother’s dissection of some sort of roast.  It was quite an unholy scene as they cut through the beast cooked to a still moo’ing rare.  Oh that crispy exterior and those salty drippings.  If their passing a shared bone around, gnawing it to extinction, was not enough perhaps it was the sight of my father and brother Rick supping up blood red drippings that made my husband…

View original post 1,124 more words

Read Full Post »

Last December


If at first you don’t succeed try, try again. That’s my mantra this season. This is the first stretch of December, the first Christmas, where I’ve felt bereft, incomplete.  I guess those aren’t bad stats considering my years on this earth.  I’m no Scrooge, far from it with the amount decorations I’ve put up in my home, however, this year the decorating was a forced activity.  My Mrs. Claus is not in the house.  Our pockets are tighter than normal but that’s not my worry.  We’ll find a way to make the gifting magical and rewarding for our kids. Quite honestly, the parameters of a cash-only Christmas this year are kind of welcome as I tend to go overboard.  This holiday we shall not buy with plastic.  We shall buy with reality.  We’ll embark on the New Year feeling in control and not overwhelmed.  As I said though, it’s not the absence of a disposable income that’s inducing my lack of cheer.  This year the holidays will commence…yes, they’ll come just the same, even though dad has left us.

This will be my first Christmas without my father.  It will be my very first Christmas Eve and morn, in about a decade, that big Vic will not be there to welcome me with a, ‘Merry Christmas, how’s my babe?’  Dad’s coffee cup, already emptied once or twice, will not be on my kitchen table as I descend the stairs at 6am.  He will not be visible through my front door in his tan corduroy vest, ‘having a smoke’ contemplating the world with one hand in his pocket.  This vacancy and re-write of my holiday has left me quite melancholic. I know mom’s spirits are far worse. He was her man for 60 years. Yes, mom’s loss is much deeper than that of her offspring.  Her heart is weighted by more memories and shared kisses. I know she would do anything to have Vic back…the good, the bad…continuing their ride of a lifetime.  In my memoir, Come Back Down to Earth, You Little Twit, I wrote of their commitment.  One particular memory describes their enduring love.

Just last April my dad’s office was transformed into a hospital room as the effects of cancer rendered him immobile.  Our family, all 36 plus, were front and center, inhabiting my parent’s home day and night, in the weeks that preceded his passing.  Trying to bring laughter into a place where so much sorrow and anticipated loss existed, I was forever cracking little jokes.  Just seeing dad’s brief smile, or wink, was my comfort.

On the occasion I reference I had entered dad’s office and sat down next to him.  I held his hand.  It was difficult for dad to articulate his words by this time though his mind raced on agile and fit.  The effects of his medicines, constant pain, resulted in dad sleeping, or existing just on the cusp, for hours at a time.

As I embraced his hand dad’s eyes remained closed but he awarded me with a faint squeeze.  He knew I was there.  My mother entered the room just after me and as I relinquished my hold she placed her husband’s hand within her own.  She had come in to wish him goodnight, and in a gallant gesture, dad raised her hand to his lips in a kiss.  Reacting to his expression of love, I joked and inquired about getting ‘some of that’ for me.  Mom replied quietly, if firmly, her eyes on her husband of 57 years and said that she was his #1 and all of us kids, his #2.  ‘Right, Vic?’ Even in his diminished state, his voice rarely heard these days and not often with his trademark quick wit, dad responded with an authoritative, ‘That’s right’, and proceeded to kiss her hand again.  Dad wanted his Joanie by his side at that moment, just as much as he did back in 1953 as they left the Cricklewood ice cream parlor, walking hand in hand for the very first time.

My parent’s home was, for all intents and purposes, washed away by hurricane Sandy two months ago compounding mom’s loss.  The new normal she was attempting to find amongst their things is now stripped down to studs. She’s one of many within the east coast trying to regain some semblance of normalcy in a world turned upside down. Of course mom’s home can be re-built, most of her memories salvageable, but it’s been a tough stretch even for one of the toughest cookies I know.

I suppose it’s the collective loss and sadness, riddling our 2012, that’s impeding my ability to belt out holiday tunes.  I knew someday my dad would leave but you can’t really prepare.  Being the youngest of seven it was a strange habit of mine to count the age I would be, they would be, on a year in the distant future.  When I arrived at a year that placed mom and dad in their 60’s, I would often cry.  Funny, but I don’t recall ever counting past 60 something.  I suppose if 65 made me cry I was too scared to contemplate a greater number.

When dad arrived at my home last Christmas Eve, he was just shy of 80.  It was not age, however, but his bout with cancer that gave me a harsh inkling that our time with this adored man was coming to an end.  I believe deep down dad knew this as well.

Dad was uncharacteristically grumpy and rail thin.  The pain and meds circulating in his body brought on flashes of irrational anger that would quickly ebb into sweet kind words more in line with our guy’s temperament.  Late Christmas Eve, after family had left, dad decided to play the piano.  It was after 11pm.  My husband and I had sent our younger kids to bed hoping they would fall asleep quick so we could complete our SC jobs and collapse into bed.  I was utterly exhausted and emotionally drained having spent a long day managing the food, personalities, gifting and bustle.  Still, dad played on somehow managing to sit through the pain in his lower extremities reading page after page of music in the dim light.  It was unlike our father to play like this and never so late at night.  Yet, song after song he continued.

Internally I battled myself.  I needed to tell him the kids could not sleep as their rooms were just above the piano.  I needed to remind him my husband and I had to do a bunch of covert Claus’ing.  I needed to tell him how tired I was, how much I wanted to just go to bed and wake up in my childhood.  I would be seven, wearing a Christmas nightgown, bouncing on my sibling’s beds to wake up at 5:30am.  Climbing down the stairs through a silent house, switching on the tree lights I would catch my breath as Santa’s handiwork came into focus.  Finally, crawling into mom and dad’s bed I would whisper that it’s, ‘Time to wake up.’ However, this go around I wouldn’t nag them, I would ask them to stay with me a bit longer.  Lying between my strong, healthy parents I would breathe them in and absorb the comfort I felt cocooned by my two greatest rocks.  This moment would have no time limits or expirations.

I held off interrupting dad’s Christmas concert.  For everything I was struggling through I knew he was on a mission.  Whether brought on by a haze of medications, or something deeper, he was committed to this recital.  Close to midnight dad’s music tapered off.  If only I could bring that hour back.  This time around I would plant myself next to him on the bench, lay my head on his shoulder and asked him to play on…forever.

Like mom and so many other people this holiday season, I will push through.  I don’t have it bad.  I have it good.  I will not give into the morose.  I will rejoice in the blessings.  I’m not just saying that either.  I’m employed by parenthood and my duties are to press beyond the woe is me and create a happy place for my family.  As was my parent’s stance, when my youngest crawls into our bed on occasion, attaching like a barnacle to our bodies, we’ll let him.  Will we allow him to permanently move into our bed?  No, but sometimes it’s what he needs.  What I need maybe.  Ultimately, though, part of our children’s growth is learning to self-soothe, find comfort without the aid of mom and dad.  I know the feeling.

Early last December I entered dad’s office.  He sat in his chair with mounds of newspapers and legal notepads about him.  The setting appeared normal.  Though thinner he looked like dad but he was off, he was sad. The family attributed his depressed state to the many medicines causing an imbalance within.  I knelt beside his chair and told him I was sorry he was in so much pain.  I wanted to cheer him on, bolster his spirit.  I reminded him he was tough and would win this newest battle.  I went on to say that he had to stay strong and committed to this fight because I needed him, ‘You’re my go-to, my rock dad’.  Dad’s reply was as telling as it was selfless.  Though it could not have been easy for him to utter these words to his child he advised me that he could no longer be my rock.  I needed to find my own strength and carry on.

I will carry on and I will be strong because that’s the right way to be…his way, mom’s way.   As I close out this piece I am now resolute.  It’s good riddance to the glum.  Here forward I will embrace the holiday season.  Every person, sparkle, stretch of scotch tape will be looked at as a blessing.  I will reach out and try to bring joy and strength to others, and there are many, who truly have something to be sad about this Christmastime.  I’ll think of our dad every step of the way.  I’ll remember what he said last December.

Read Full Post »

Read Full Post »

1961 March Snow Dad & kidsThe Magic of Winter

-An excerpt from ‘Come Back Down to Earth, You Little Twit’

When a weather man mentioned a storm may be coming we stood on attention.  Oh the excited yammering on the carpool ride home from school.  Long before one could track the progression of a weather pattern by the minute from their home, from their phone, we relied on major networks and their charming meteorologists.  A 30 minute news cast would commence and the station dropped us a crumb… something interesting was going to be shared about the weather!  Oh the possibilities for tomorrow, what we could do!  We waited as all sorts of news headlines were aired. We tried to stay focused, not get caught up in a game of Battleship or Hungry Hungry Hippos, our bodies splayed across shag carpets. We did not want to miss this.  When the sports segment came on our hair stood on end, our destiny was just around the corner.  SNOW!  ‘Tonight expect accumulations of 6-8” in the metropolitan area’.  The joy!  Dizzy with anticipation we ran into our kitchen’s, in our Scooby Doo socks slid sideways along the vinyl floor and called our friends.

I love the smell of rain and snow just as much as I enjoy the heady scent of honeysuckle floating by on a spring night.  I adore the light tap of an icy snowfall shattering into a melt upon my face…fleeting canopies of frost atop my eyelashes.  I love the outdoors and I’m a sucker for the winter.

As a child, on the eve of a likely snow, I would take a moment to step outside.  Within the still night air I inhaled deeply hoping to register the scent of a rime vapor heading my way.  As frigid air tickled my nostrils I would stand contemplating the dark sky above, willing the first flake to fall.  Upon going to bed I couldn’t help but peak outside, just one last time.  Imaging the descent of a much anticipated snowfall I would fall into my slumber.

On the mornings I awoke to nothing but wet stinking rain outside, a school day now my reality, I was pissed.  I hated those darn weathermen, where did they get their degrees anyhow.  I wanted to live in Alaska.  This was a bunch of crap or depending on my age, poop.  However, on the days I woke up to rooftops and lawns glistening with deep play ready snow, it was bliss.

Depending on the stage of the storm I might have hunkered down inside for some hours before entering this fresh new winter wonderland. Sometimes it was nice just waiting for the snowfall to end admiring a familiar backdrop so incredibly transformed.  For me, snow and cold winter temperatures are synonymous, even today, to a perfect Christmas season. Though I know the degree on a thermometer is not what it’s all about I have a hard time finding that same internal glow on warm sunny December days.  There have been some years when the temperatures peaked in the mid 60’s on Christmas prohibiting the sensibility of warm crackling fires.  I know in my household my boys would jump at balmy temps, throwing on shorts to kick a soccer ball around or shoot a basket.  Realistically, they couldn’t care less what the temperature might be.  You’ll find them trying to get out the door half naked in below freezing weather.  Only last week I videotaped my youngest doing his best Messi imitation, cracking bombs into a net during a snowstorm.  Still, for me the Christmas season needs to be cloaked in white or smoke blowing temperatures.  Anything less is like going to a beach without water.  I tried that once at White Sands in New Mexico.  Sitting smack in the middle of an endless see of alabaster sand, my Poland Spring the only drop of water in site, though it was a truly amazing setting, it just seemed off.

During some winter seasons we were gifted, or that’s how I looked at it as a child, with an erratic storm system.  In these instances temperatures seesawed overnight forcing snow into ice and vice versa.  By morning a blinding, glimmering winter wonderland emerged. Radiant ice coated the world that existed outside my window.  Masterful icicles dangled from the bottom of snow covered tree limbs, houses and signage, like crystals on a ballroom chandelier.  The effect was awe inspiring.  If that same ice knocked out the power later, whoowho!  Sleeping bags with my family by the fireplace!

Oh the blinders of childhood.  How my parents must have cringed in concern over the financial ramifications of no heat, defrosted meats and pipes freezing.  However, they kept their angst in check.  Mom and dad stored their worries a few levels above me, in adult world.  Snow days for children are meant to be dreamlike.  My memories are proof that mom and dad knew the recipe for that enduring magic.

If an overnight snow made things ripe for some immediate play I would kick back my Captain Crunch and get moving.   After pulling on our gear my friends and I vacated our respective houses.  As shoveling frenzies were completed enchanted pathways to each other’s homes opened up.  We were in heaven.

Usually after the neighborhood station wagons that had gone off to work for the day, their wheels and weight compressing the newly fallen snow on Thomas Street, we would have a go at sledding.  Who knew Country Squire 8 cylinder wood panel lined wagons could double as Zambonis.  I don’t believe our neighborhood roads were plowed at day break.  Come to think of it I don’t think side-street plowing, in the late 70’s, was a regular occurrence in Cranford. This created a dreamscape for us kids.  For Joe commuter with his rear wheel drive, not so much.

Always the biggest and strongest of our group I would man the sled on top of our hill.  The only problem is that it was not much of a hill.  We tried to ignore this single fact each and every storm.  I would give my buddies, girls and boys alike, a good run and push down an almost flat street.  If the conditions were good and I didn’t fall on my face in the process, they would experience an enjoyable skid.   However, this activity never lasted very long.  The act of doing for others got old quick lacking any decent reciprocation.

By late morning Lincoln School would be plowed.  This became our destination with its mounds of giant snow piles.  The parking lot was a haven for tunneling, jumping and climbing, ‘I’m king of the hill!’   Lincoln School attracted kids from nearby blocks and here we would all remain, like ants working an anthill, until the chill got the better of us or a snowball was thrown too hard at someone’s head.  Crusty red noses, pink cheeked and sodden socked we embarked on the journey home as the weight of winter slowed our pace.  If we were lucky our toasty homes would be equipped with hot chocolate and marshmallows, compliments of a loving parent.  Once stripped down and thoroughly wiped out from a day of excellent play, the only thing left on our agenda was to curl up in our afghan’s for a bit of TV.  I don’t know the last time I did that without a to-do list a hundred miles long.  These days, however, I take satisfaction in stocking smore essentials, serving up Campbell’s and hot chocolate to my brood.  Soon they’ll be off recalling their own childhoods and though that to-do list of mine will be far shorter, it will be acutely missed indeed.

Read Full Post »

Holiday Meals with the Karls

…WARNING don’t put your fingers in the cage!

Short story excerpt from memoir; Come Back Down to Earth, You Little Twit


The Karl family loves our food.  The frenzy of hungry mouths, grasping hands at feeding time, particularly during many a family party, is a sight to be seen even today, though time, age and that dirty word called cholesterol have mellowed us out a bit.  I recall the first time my husband witnessed my dad and brother’s dissection of some sort of roast.  It was quite an unholy scene as they cut through the beast cooked to a still moo’ing rare.  Oh that crispy exterior and those salty drippings.  If their passing a shared bone around, gnawing it to extinction, was not enough perhaps it was the sight of my father and brother Rick supping up blood red drippings that made my husband queasy.


We are a meat and potatoes family and our appetites are healthy.  As a child, when I ate over my friend’s houses the calmness in which they went about filling a plate and serving up food was confusing to me.  Aren’t they hungry?  With the exception of my youngest son, the gusto of his appetite being Karl 100%, the rest of my boys and husband eat meals with far less intensity.  They are not in rapture when goodies like cakes or cookies are placed in their view. ‘Boys would you like a piece?’  ‘Umm, no thanks, I’m not really hungry’.  Not really hungry?  Since when does that have anything to do with it? Someone just offered you a Hostess Suzi Q, a side of beef, and you’re not hungry?  At these moments I recite in my head the words of Sheriff Buford T. Justice, ‘(Junior) there is no way, no way that you could comefrom my loins.’



On Easter, our collective nostrils welcomed the aroma of a seasonal treat, leg of lamb.   Mom would stuff the meat with garlic, insert round or fingerling potatoes alongside and roast this sucker to perfection.   The meal always included an assortment of vegetables that interested me not, and a bowl of mint Jelly.  On one such holiday serving the 9 lb. bone in leg of lamb was placed on a cutting board.  It sat there minding its own business waiting to be carved and served on a platter.  Mom must have stepped away from her station in the kitchen.  What happened next was her fault, really.  She should have known better, anticipated the outcome.  Mom had years of experience with the devilish pickers that were her own children and husband.  As mom walked away the feeding frenzy moved in.  Multiple hands began their savage attack.  First the crispy garlic flavored skin was ripped off.  Soon after the succulent meat was peeled away, rip after rip, layer after layer.  Mom returned and took in the just slightly guilty faces of her greasy fingered relatives surrounding the carcass that was to be our Easter meal.  It was hard being mad, however, because in each of the offender’s eye was a look of sheer appreciation for mom’s cooking.  Contained within their sheepish smiles was a hint of euphoria, for they had just devoured, in less than five minutes, a splendid meal.  They gave thanks to the risen Lord, for the bounty that mother had erroneously left unattended.

This would be a pivotal Easter meal.  Thereafter, mom would buy two of everything.  Two leg of lambs, two turkeys, two roast beefs.  Noah would be proud.  Whatever meat the gathering was to offer would be purchased and cooked two-fold.  When the roasts were just about complete, a current began to circulate in our kitchen.  Mom’s other half, children and their spouses circled the area repetitiously. The decoy or sacrificial meat was then placed on a cutting board with a knowingly in vain, ‘Keep your hands off’.   Mom strategically placed roast #2 in a less conspicuous spot. When doing so she would meet any ogling eyes with a firm, ‘stay away from this one’.


There was always plenty of other food and appetizers at our parties.  You couldn’t leave the place hungry if you tried.  Thanksgiving was the most gluttonous of events.  We started the day with appetizers and drinks, picked on turkey #1 and sat down for a meal with turkey #2 plus 10ish sides.  Afterwards, we laid around in a poultry induced drugged state watching football or listening to a piano melody.  An hour or so later pies galore came out, including dad’s mincemeat, followed by an evening of sandwiches.  Heavenly layers of leftover turkey, stuffing and cranberry, a blob of mayo, because at this point what difference did a few thousand more calories make.

Still, the abundance of food did not make us any less possessive, especially when it came to some of our favorites. Bushels of potatoes would be purchased.  These golden balls of starch were boiled up and mashed with butter, milk and salt.   This yellowy mush was the highlight of my Thanksgiving meal so when a spud crime was committed it was very hard to forgive.  On Thanksgiving I counted my blessings…mom, dad, some of my brothers and sisters and mashed potatoes.

Our family was only just growing at the time.  Combined with the Donnelly’s we probably had about 25 mouths to feed which is smallish compared to our 21st century feasts.  There were 34 at my home this last Thanksgiving and that was less two families.  I loved it, relished the noise, togetherness though it was bittersweet being the first holiday without our dad.   My husband, in contrast, would have preferred a secluded cave somewhere with cable for his sports and some stuffing.

On the day of the spud misdemeanor the coveted potatoes were lopped into a bowl and passed around.  The crown jewel of my dinner was en route.  When the potato dish hit our section of the table, it was empty.  Why anyone bothered to still pass it made no sense, it was a cruel joke.  Whipped potatoes, however, were piled high on my brother Jeffrey’s plate.  When the non–receivers zeroed in on his portion we noted a single serving capable of feeding a soup kitchen.  Jeff was completely absorbed in his grotesque pile of mashed potatoes and had begun to carve out the gravy well.  When he glanced up with a mumbled, ‘Please pass the gravy’, his mind on nothing more than his beloved food, he did not understand the glares and incredulous, ‘How could you’s?’  To Jeff, his serving of mashed potatoes was consistent with all other serving he had allotted himself through the years.  That this year’s hosting family had miscalculated the spud to belly ratio never occurred to him.  The fact his scraping the potato bowl clean would equate to zip, zero, nada for the balance of his table, was not his concern.

From that holiday on mashed potatoes joined the meats and were henceforth doubled.  Still, even with the increased volume, which now needs to satisfy sometimes up to 40 mouths, I don’t leave things to chance.  I do my very best to secure potato servings for my kids and self before the Jeffonater descends on the scene.  As he’s usually waiting alongside the buffet table for the official ‘Time to Eat,’ my moves need to be calculated and swift.  ‘Hey Jeff, look, I think I see Ronald Reagan outside the window!’  I exaggerate only slightly.  I share all of this without a bit of negativity.  You can’t denounce a Karl for their love of meat and potatoes.  It’s just something in the genes.

Read Full Post »