MEALS AFTER THE UNION VILLA
I left home when my parents still had the Union Villa and lived with my brother and sister-in-law for about nine months, in Washington State. I had always been a picky eater, but my brother would not have it. He was the first person to ever say to me, if you don’t like supper, the next meal is breakfast. I learned to eat vegetables I thought I hated, and salads. (salad dressing helped!) When I went home, I moved into my own apartment at 19. My meals consisted of living out of large cans of beefaroni, or some similar food. So much so, that I was thrilled to have Sunday dinner at my parents’ house.
Fast forward several years, although I do not think it was a coordinated plan, mom did several things to encourage my cooking. She bought me special gifts useful for entertaining and special meals. She helped me buy my coveted set of Lenox China, one place setting at a time. The last gift she gave me was a marble rolling pin. I think my favorite memory is of her reading me recipes out of the women’s magazines. “Oh, Michele, listen to this! Doesn’t this sound delicious?”
This, for me, is an important connection. When I was married the first time and making meals for myself and my husband, I already had the deeply imbedded habit of setting my sights on a picture or a recipe, and trying to duplicate it. Especially as a new cook. Much to my surprise, with all the things I have lost in 70 years, I still have a copy of the first meatloaf recipe I made as a bride. I had found it in a woman’s magazine, and there was a picture. It was the first thing I remember making and being bolstered by the compliments. (It was a mushroom stuffed meatloaf). But I probably would not have tried it without the picture.
When mom and her sister were older, and both widowed, they would come to our house for special holiday meals. I always made some kind of roast, because in general it was not something they would not make for themselves. I suppose I took as much joy in making those meals for mom and Aunt Cassie, as mom had taken cooking for us. I wanted each meal to be special and I was keenly aware this was a time limited opportunity.
It wasn’t just the holiday meals or the family meals that I remember but countless shopping trips with my mom that always involved lunch. Whether we were at home in Massachusetts or when we both lived in Baltimore, or mom and Aunt Cassie picking me up for lunch from work every Friday. They had a routine, Daily mass, breakfast at Dunkin Donuts, bowling and then meeting me for lunch. If the details of all these meals are lost swirling around in the gray matter in my brain, the love they represent is firmly lodged in my heart. I would joke on those Fridays, that it was “old lady lunch day” Knowing how keenly I would come to miss those opportunities.
MY FAVORITE MEAL: CHRISTMAS DINNER AT MOM’S
During the years that I was a single parent, my children spent every other Christmas with me, and the alternate Christmas’ sometimes with their dad, sometimes not, but always at their Grandparents’ home in Virginia. One year stands out particularly, the children had been picked up and I was home alone. I made fruitcakes for my mom and Aunt Cassie and then drove to mom’s apartment. She lived in an efficiency apartment in a senior citizen’s building, it was “assisted living”
The “living room/dining room/kitchen” combination held a couch, chair a folding table and a china closet. The folding table was a wooden dropleaf table with a compartment for four uncomfortable folding chairs. The table was covered with one of the embroidered tablecloths that dad had brought from Italy. It was dressed in her Noritake China, and sterling silver flatware. There were glasses holding shrimp and shrimp cocktail set at each place. Red taper candles were in the silver candlesticks. The shrimp were followed by standing rib roast, spinach soufflé and long grain and wild rice, all her favorites and specialty. She had made a rich chocolate pudding for dessert. The meal lovely and an unforgettable gift of love.
Mom did not buy china dishes until later in life, but the sterling silver was her pride and joy. She bought it one piece at a time in her twenties and when she and my dad got married, asked for pieces or place settings for wedding presents. I do not remember having any special plates, I remember her taking the wooden chest out of the buffet dresser that was in our dining room. The chest was lined in blue velvet, and filled with her precious treasures. Today, in 2022, it is hard to imagine someone buying just one spoon, or one fork and being excited about it, but before getting any pieces for wedding presents, that is how mom got her silver. It was a simple, if material joy, paid for in cash.
As I finish up this post, I am working very hard, rearranging my posessions, giving things away, setting things aside for a yard sale, donations to the library, preparing for full retirement, but that wooden chest with the silver remains. Perhaps it is my age, but thoughts of my parents are never far from me. Meals at the Union Villa were rushed by necessity, but remembering our first home, or family meals in the apartment at the Union Villa when the bar was closed, these two statements made by my father ring clear and present. After we said the traditional blessing before the meal, he would remind us, “God bless the provider of this table” (meaning himself), and after eating, he would push his chair back from the table and say to my mom, “My dear, I have dined sufficiently.”
I am so grateful for all the memorable meals, thankful for the cook and the provider and the joy.
Not holding back the tide,
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