Piece Meal Stories of Jack and Maggie, Part I

Both of my parents were good cooks. So it amazes me that for all the memories I have of my parents, my memories of specific meals, or food, are scant, piecemeal. Nevertheless, my mother’s cooking especially has been a large influence in my own love of cooking, and how I cook. What I remember are simply bits of pieces of meals and experiences and yet they were very formational.

Probably part of the reason I don’t remember much of those early meals is that I was young, and was only 11 when we moved from our house in Point Independence, to the Union Villa, the hotel, bar and restaurant that they bought at the end of 1961. We moved into an apartment on the first floor of the hotel shortly before my 12th birthday. So, I think of my parents’ cooking, my mom’s especially as before the Union Villa, during the seven years we lived there, and the years following the Union Villa. In addition, during these years, my dad was in the Merchant Marine and at sea, and in other ports, much more than at home, so family meals are a bit of a blur, if a family meal means everyone at the table.

Picture of an old woman wearing a sweater and sitting in an overstuffed chair, with a young girl holding a doll.
Me, at about 5 with an unnamed friend and my grandmother, Mary Marcellino

Before the Union Villa

I remember watching my mother decorate my birthday cake for my fourth birthday. I remember Thanksgivings and mom’s oyster dressing, that I thought was awful (although I love it now and make it whenever I can, when oysters are in season). I remember my mom picking up my grandmother Marcellino, and bringing her to our house for dinner and then taking her home. What I remember most though are the plates we ate on, I remember when she bought them at the hardware store/lumber yard. They were Melmac, some were a dusty rose, and others were grey. Fashionable in the 1950’s. The dining room furniture was blond oak, also very fashionable in the 1950’s.

Mealtime Traditions with Dad

These were simple, but for me unforgettable. Somewhere along the line, dad decided to amend the traditional Catholic table grace. When we got to the end of the prayer he would add, “God bless the provider of this table!” I suppose he did not want to be left out; to his addition, mom would retort, “…and the cook!”

I remember on many occasions when he was home, my dad pushing his chair back from the table after a meal, and saying to my mother, “My dear, I have dined sufficiently!” That was especially memorable because it was a real word and a rather large one. My dad was a sailor and talked like it, so much of his conversation was sprinkled with four letter words, and larger ones but with the same type of sentiments. Although I am sure that my mother did not invent this description, he was one of those folks who could swear two minutes straight, and not repeat himself.

In those early years before the Union Villa, he would make fried fish and jag (jagacita), a Portuguese rice dish. There are probably dozens of ways to make this, but he cooked it using salt pork, chopped onion, converted rice and peas or lima beans. It was his traditional, “just got home from sea and I’m going to cook dish.”

The alternate tradition for his just getting home from sea, was my favorite, “Let’s go out for dinner!” I have only recently come to realize, that this is probably the source of my enjoying going out to eat, and my desire to do so on special occasions. Sometimes, just because it is a welcome break from cooking and cleaning up. Not to recreate something lost; but the memory is so potent, that it does beckon, creating a humble, but hopeful expectation of something that speaks of love.

My favorite places that we went to, no longer exist. The China Maid Restaurant had Juke Box selection boxes at each table. There were small metal handles at the top of each page so you could ‘turn the pages’ to see what songs were on the juke box without having to leave the table make a selection. It was fun to browse through and pick out songs. The food was good too, though nothing really stands out, so many years have past

My other favorite place to eat was The White Rabbit, which was attached to Nickerson’s Bar. I loved the dinner rolls, that were like squared hamburger buns, buttered and grilled, toasty and delicious. Their seafood platter was my favorite dish. The waitresses wore dresses that were large flower prints, and white nurses shoes to ease tired feet. We sat in wooden booths, and the atmosphere was different than when we ate at tables in the bar. Pretty much any place we would go out to eat would have a bar, that was a given.

Postcard circa 1945?

The Union Villa

The menu at the Union Villa was limited to pizzas, spaghetti and meatballs, meatball sandwiches (Grinders, or subs) and traditional Grinders (Italian subs) and occasional stuffed quohogs. (Pronounced Ko-Hogs). I never ate mom’s stuffed quohogs, though now I wish I had. We could not eat dinner together when the bar was open. Somebody had to tend bar, and somebody had to cook, so we more or less ate separately.

Even though I still love pizza and spaghetti, there had to be other foods. Mostly I remember mom making fried rice, chicken or pork chops that she made in the electric frying pan. Meals were simple, because most of the cooking in the kitchen was for the restaurant, so our food had to be made concurrently with the restaurant fare. As amazing as it sounds, we went out for breakfast every morning, to Arthur’s Restaurant, just around the corner. Mom tried making a family breakfast for us at the Villa, but when customers would hang over the back of the booth and say, “Gee, Maggie, you got any for me?” that was the end of that. So off to Arthur’s we went. We sat at the counter, but it was the only meal we could eat together.

Picture of sandwiches and fruit on a table.
Photo by Kasumi Loffler from Pexels

Customer Appreciation Meals

We lived in a beach town, and the liquor license was seasonal. That meant that the Union Villa opened on April 1st and closed on November 30th. On opening day, and closing day, mom laid out a feast. She bought large lobsters, cooked them and made lobster salad. She cleaned the large claws and placed them on the table for decoration. There were trays of sandwiches, in addition to appetizers, and the requisite chips, nuts, etc. But it was how everything looked that caught my attention. It wasn’t just the taste, but the look of a party. I thought I wanted to be able to do that. I never wandered into catering for lots of reasons, but those customer appreciation events caught my eye. Mom made everything look special and taste good.

Dad’s Version of Customer Appreciation was a little different. There were roofers, and I suppose some other construction workers who stayed at the hotel by the week. Once a year he invited “the fellas” to a home cooked New England Boiled Dinner (corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, carrots and turnips). He also made beef stew for them once a year. I was a brat, loved dad, but those meals I was happy to get an invitation to eat elsewhere, or have spaghetti.

Home Cooking

Off season cooking was much different, but still my memory does not serve me well on this. Mom made boiled butternut squash, roast beef, but not pot roast, so the beef was roasted dry. She loved wild rice and back in the day, Stouffer’s made Spinach Souffle, something I haven’t seen in a long time. Unlike the stove in the restaurant kitchen, the stove in our apartment was apartment sized. The kitchen was small, there was no counter space to speak of, no dishwasher, and microwave ovens did not exist yet.

Everything the restaurant served was homemade. The pizza dough was made from scratch, meatballs, sauces. everything was made in our kitchen, nothing was pre-packaged. Although I am not sure how it came to be, mom made most of the restaurant food, but dad made the spaghetti sauce. So he kept his hand in, but mostly he was behind the bar and took care of the whisky and beer. I helped in the kitchen as needed, squeezing canned whole tomatoes to get the pulp out, making pizza dough when needed, although mostly my help was limited to things like folding pizza boxes. But in family businesses, you do what needs to be done and it was a way to be with my parents.

There is an important thread here, and part of the reason I wanted to write this story, because it leads into my current obsession with making bread. The short year I spent overseas with my first husband, the only food from home we could not get on the base (trying not to call it ‘junk food’) was pizza. So I began to make my own, which is something that I did often when the kids were growing up. Although I can only claim to be a novice bread maker at this stage, working with flour, yeast, salt and water, and also baking as a way to deal with sorrow or stress is just part of who I have been, who I am.

I hope you will come back to read more. What about you? If you are an adult of any age, who loves to cook or bake, have you ever explored the roots and connections of that love? What have you learned about yourself in the process?

Not holding back the tide,

Michele

Copyright 2020-2024 Michele Somerville, The Beach Girl Chronicles and https://msomervillesite.WordPress.com

Linking up with Natalie’s #WeekendCoffeeShare, Denyse Whelan Blogs and Esme’s Senior Salon

Published by msomerville2014

About: Michele Somerville is a wife, mother, stepmother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin and friend. She lives with her husband and their dog Sheba. Sheba is their fourth rescue dog in 30 years. She is a retired ordained United Methodist Elder and serves two churches part-time in North Central Pennsylvania. She obtained her Bachelors’ Degree in 1999 from Mansfield University and her Master of Divinity in 2004 and Doctor of Ministry in 2016, both from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, New York. My Doctor of Ministry Thesis was:” Prophetic Words of Grace: Biblical Storytelling in the Local Church.” Michele began writing and performing character monologues for worship in 2008. She began by asking the question about nameless characters in the Bible, “What would they say if they could speak for themselves?” and then using her theological education and experience of the human condition to attempt an answer that is both academic and creative. Much of what you will read here are memories from growing up in a tourist town, in a bar, in the 1960’s, shaggy dog stories about our rescue dogs, life in a small town, and stories of faith and hope. Throughout her life she has lived in many states, including small towns, large towns and cities. She lived in Rota, Spain, for nine challenging months. Despite all the places she have lived since moving away from home in 1970,Michele is at the heart of all things Jack and Maggie’s daughter, and a beach girl from Onset, Massachusetts.

30 thoughts on “Piece Meal Stories of Jack and Maggie, Part I

  1. I loved reading this! Food has a lot to do with our memories. Mom was a great cook, as was her mom. Everything was homemade too. She taught me how to cook at a young age and we loved trying new recipes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Darlene, sounds as though you have a lot of good memories and hopefully, some recipes in their handwriting! I had never thought of this exactly the same way until I started working on this post. Remember the old Pillsbury Ad? “Nothing says lovin’, like something from the oven…” Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Best and blessings, Michele

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  2. What a marvelous post! I savored it like I’d savor a piece of chocolate cake.

    Food was very important in our home. My dad, brother, and I talked about food all the time and enjoyed my mother’s cooking. She was a very reserved person and didn’t talk a lot. Whatever she did, she did well, but she didn’t talk about it. Actually, I think it was Dad who really loved food. He was a dentist and had regular office hours that precluded cooking. He did cook everything he killed or caught — quail, doves, squirrel, raccoon, catfish, bream, and crappie. When I was a teen, he began to cook things he was interested in. He liked making loaves of bread, though he didn’t do it often until he retired. He’d have a craving for something and prepare it. He practiced making southern pecan pie until he thought it was perfect, and then he prepared it for my mother to serve when the book club met at our house. I wouldn’t be surprised if he never made one again. He did things in spurts and didn’t repeat them.

    When my brother and I went to our childhood home after his death, we found a pound cake made the day before he died. Mom had died years before that. Neighbors and friends told us he had been making pound cakes for several weeks. We, our spouses, children, and some grandchildren enjoyed that cake to the last crumb.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, Anne, what awesome memories! and that last pound cake! I love reading that your dad liked making bread, that is one thing this duet of posts is leading up to…my fanatic (almost) bread baking. My husband cooks and is a good cook. In the almost 8 years it took me to go through college and seminary, he did most of the cooking and he does all the grilling, etc. How are you feeling? How is the eye? Thanks you for taking the time to read, savor a nd comment. You are awesome. Best and blessings, Michele

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      1. I’m coping with lost vision and am glad I am not tempted to drive. John drives me wherever I need to go, and when he’s not here, I stay home. There are amusing things that happen. Yesterday I looked at the rain gauge on the deck railing. It looked normal through the good eye. It shrank a third in height with the other eye. It’s no wonder I feel the eyes are not working together.

        Bread baking — for several years before we moved to England, I baked all the bread we ate. I took the sourdough starter on the airplane in a baby bottle. Baking went by the wayside while I chased after a toddler. It’s great that you enjoy making bread.

        I enjoy your posts. Wouldn’t miss one for the world! God bless you.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Is this vision loss in transition, or permanent, or healing? I am so sorry that you are dealing with this. Forget if I told you I had a macular hole that was discovered the week before my official retirement and had emergency surgery (a gas bubble with mandatory ‘face down’ time. But no shots. I wondered for a w hile if it would be permanent and that scared me. Glad you are able to apply your sense of humor to the situation, and glad for John being such a good support. Thank you also for the kind and affirming words. My hubs is still recovering from surgery and more independent, but still needing me to be around so I have been reading, but not doing much writing. I have Part II of “piece meal” probably half written and starting on an update on #Strongerthanthecookie. Fitting them in “piece meal”. Today I am going back to doing some canning, long story that may or may not make a blog post, almost threw in the towel last night. I was ‘writing in my head’ “I can can, but I choose not to.” But Roger came in a nd unsympathetically but wisely talked me off the cliff. Have a great day, talk soon. M

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      3. No, I didn’t know you had surgery on your eye. Is your vision good now?

        The retina specialist has not mentioned surgery for me. He is doing injections once a month, and I’ve had only the first one. There is no difference in my vision at this point. He carefully made no predictions, so I don’t even know an average rate of progress. I suspect God is calling me to trust and patience. Meanwhile, I will do anything I can to help my eyes.

        I used to make lots of peach jam, because there was a peach farm that sold seconds. Bus drivers, school teachers, and friends always received peach jam for Christmas.

        How about dancing while you work in the kitchen? Do the Can-can!

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  3. You have beautiful memories of your parents through food Michelle. I’m really not surprised your parents felt the need to take you elsewhere for breakfast. When I was growing up, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t common to eat breakfast out. Our family never did anyway. When my children came along, we had a family tradition of breakfast out at the place of your choice on your birthday. It’s still my favourite meal to have out. I loved reading this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jennifer, thank you for those affirming words and for sharing something of your own experience. I have a good friend whose birthday is July 4th, so she never got to ask for anything special, she always knew her birthday meal was going to be cookout fare! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Michele

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  4. Thank you Jennifer. I think that is the hope with writing, and with memoir, that our stories will help others connect in some way with their own stories. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Blessings, Michele

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  5. Hi Michelle. This was a wonderful read. and together, these are such priceless memories. We didn’t have a family business, but I got to know a gal from a Chinese family who owned and ran a family restaurant in town. We were good friends and over the years she told me some of what being raised upstairs from the family business was like.

    And now you have me thinking. . . Anyway, I look forward to the next edition of this story.
    So very well told BTW!

    Blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Gary for taking the time to read and comment, especially when you are so much under the weather. Do you remember the Tony Orlando and Dawn song, “Knock Three Times?” Before that was a song, that is how my mom got my attention. Eventually they put in an intercom in the apartment. Until then, she would leave the kitchen, go out to the pool room, grab a pool stick, and yes, knocked three times on the ceiling if she wanted me!

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  6. Food memories are really special – and it’s great that you’re documenting these stories. My mother isn’t a great cook – partly because she doesn’t enjoy it and partly because my father is quite fussy and a meat and 3 veg type of man & unwilling to try anything new. Mum’s always been a great gardener though and I love the little bowls of salad she still puts on the table (which Dad won’t touch) with leaves she’s foraged from the garden.

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    1. It might be worth the try, you can always edit out the rabbit holes. Food can be such an emotional thing, can it not? I was surprised about the insight about dining out that I could never have articulated until I wrote it. Loving the journey. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Michele

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  7. Precious memories and images – thank you for digging deep and sharing these. My childhood memories are patchy as well. But like yours, many are centred around the table (ours and others); some comforting, some traumatic (eg. fish eye balls).

    Is pizza really junk food? I guess if you put vegetables on them, they are ok, right? (note: one of my favourite foods and appears regularly at our table – we make from scratch).

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    1. I love pizza, never tire of it! I made it at least once a month when the kids were growing up. Now, I only make it a few times a year, but I could eat pizza every week. I live in a small town, with no chain restaurants. But one of t! The restaurant owners is opening a separate pizza shop. Looking forward to trying his pizza. I have no doubt I would have a hard time with fish eyeballs. I like my fish fileted. Thank you again for your kind words. Best and blessings, Michele

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      1. I am not a great vegetable eater. I am interested in experimenting a bit with lentils, but I am too attached to meat. Trying to expand my horizons though and eat more vegetables. Before I started on my weight loss program for several months all I ate was meat and potatoes or rice, knowing that my body was being deprived of important nutrients, but not being able to move beyond that. Thankfully I have. Love hearing from you Ju-Lyn. Thanks for the comments.

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      2. I hear you. It is challenging to change one’s eating preferences, particularly if you have strong feelings about something. Good on you that you are experimenting & trying new things!

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  8. I read this post a while ago but never commented. I love hearing stories about your childhood, Michele. Your dad’s fried fish and jag sounds wonderful. You certainly did have some good cooks to learn from. My mom was of the generation that was thrilled at the new conveniences in cooking – cake in a box, shake n bake, hamburger helper, etc. My grandma was a good cook and I guess I learned from her. I still make my own bread once a week. I have sourdough starter, and I make various types using that – no yeast!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Laurie, thanks very much. Comments are always necessary, but I appreciate it anyway. I have used all those things, my husband still likes shake n bake, the generic version anyway. I was in the store yesterday looking at broth and suddenly remembered “Soup Starter” Do you remember that? Must be going back 20 years if not more, Roger and I have been married 35 years. I am vowing to not be fanatical, but one thing my weight loss journey has done is made me more conscious of processed foods. I am trying to avoid as many highly processed packaged foods as possible. Have been making my own bread since April, and that is a story in itself. Put my sourdough baking on hold though, until I get a better handle on it. I have been baking like there is no tomorrow, bread at lealst once a week, trying to learn, but also muffins, etc. Stress relief. I bake and give away as much as I can. Slice the bread I am keeping and put it in the freezer, weigh it before using it so I know what I am doing. At any rate, I love that you make your own bread every week! Have a great time in London. Blessings, Michele and thanks again for taking the tiem to read and comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Laurie, I hope you kept reading, because what I thought I wrote and meant to say is that comments are NOT always necessary. If you have time to read a post and not comment, I would not be offended! Michele

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I loved reading this. I was thinking as I read, how it seems we have gotten away from this in generations that followed. Now it seems everyone is so busy, no one has time to spend in the kitchen around food…our girls were always involved in sports and usually at practices when I was making dinner. However I have been more fascinated in the last few years with traditions, family history, etc. wanting to learn more of my own family but also loving to learn about other people’s families as well. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m leaving this up so I can read it again more slowly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kirsten, thanks very much for reading and commenting. I think it is because life has gotten so incredibly busy. And look at television commercials (I’m old fashioned, cable, but not netflix, etc. yet anyway. So, on television commercials they aren’t advertizing making your own bread, canning tomatoes, etc. They advertize fast, convenient, microwave, etc, I have been on an almost year long weight loss journey and it has made me extra conscious of the preservatives and things we can’t pronounce that get put into the food we eat. It is in part, imo, what we pay for the convenience. I was a single parent for 10 years and taught my kids how to cook. When I remarried a nd we were both working, my daughter had to have our supper ready when we got home so I could get her to karate class or band practice on time. Somewhere along the line she stopped reading recipes and always did a great job. Anyway, thank you ! and blessings, Michele

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