Saturday, April 18, 2009

Making Do....

I took piano lessons from elementary through high school – almost exclusively from Mrs. Blackham. She lived about five miles from my home town and just blocks down the street from two of my aunts – one from my mom’s side of the family and one from my dad’s side. Occasionally, I would hang out at an aunt’s house if my mom or brother couldn’t immediately pick me up at the end of my lesson.

Often, when I’m dwelling on my mom-related regrets, I think about one of these evenings.

This particular evening, I walked up to my Aunt CB’s house to wait for mom. I played with my cousin who was just two years younger. I was invited to eat dinner since it would be a while before my mom arrived. They were having spaghetti. There could have been much more to the meal, but all I remember was the spaghetti – a white, heaping mound of it with a generous helping of sauce on top. But, not just any sauce – R*agu.

What was this? Sauce on top? Ladled in massive quantities? It was not my mama’s spaghetti sauce, that was for sure. It was bright red and tangy, and I could control how much was on my pasta. This was a new experience! All my life, the noodles, sauce, meatballs, herbs, and mushrooms had been all mixed together in a big pot before serving, and Italian restaurants were nonexistent in that neck of the woods (still are). I was in love – with R*agu!

So, once mom picked me up, I raved on and on (as I have a tendency to do) about the wonderful sauce and the delicious spaghetti and how it was the best thing I had ever eaten and blah-di-blah-di-blah.

The next time we had spaghetti at home, my mom made a special purchase – a whole bottle of R*agu, and considering the size of our family and the fact that she fed every friend my brothers ever had, it was probably the biggest bottle of R*agu in the entire store – maybe even two of them! I went through the whole meal without saying a word. I didn’t even realize it was my newly beloved sauce; after all, it was prepared and served in exactly the same way that it always was – everything mixed together and served from the big pot.

So after dinner, mom let me in on her secret. I don’t remember what I said or did, but I certainly didn’t turn verbal cartwheels like I did after dinner at my aunt’s house. I think that mom was a bit hurt by the whole thing. She never said anything, of course, but I’ve always wondered.

You know, her spaghetti was never bad – in fact, it was quite good. And, I know now that it was as fresh as possible. I realized a few years later that she made the sauce from tomatoes that she had bottled herself. Sometimes, the meatballs were made from beef that we had raised. (And, when I say “we” I mean “she” because like most parents, she picked up the slack when we failed to finish what we started.) It was good and healthy food. For the record, I would rather eat plain noodles than have them topped with R*agu today.

It took me a long time to sort of understand how difficult it must have been for her to keep five kids fed. Can you imagine the bickering and whining at the table when somebody got more sauce or if – god forbid – all of the sauce was gone by the time the last person was served? I can’t even bear to think about the tantrums and complaining that would ensue. And that would all be just from me! Add four more kids to that cacophony – aye, aye, aye! Sometimes, I look in the fridge and wonder what I’ll feed the boys. The decision is usually based on my level of laziness for that day because, honestly, I’ve been blessed so far to always have food to eat and serve. I know that she was not always this lucky. She put together some creative meals – usually out of necessity, not the desire to be innovative. We never went hungry; she always managed to “make do” with what little she had.

I’ll always remember the R*agu incident. I hope that I also always remember to appreciate what I have and the people that I have to share it with. I know that I'll always appreciate her ability to make do for years and years for all of us.


Isabelle said...

It's heartbreaking & shame-enducing when you grow up and look back on incidents like this. Those of us that grew up in homes that had more love than money can relate. The incident that comes to mind for me involved a product called Soup Starter.

Anonymous said...

My mom went thru great lengths to get us to think dinner was innovative. We ate, "pheasant McNuggets" because my mom thought if she added the coveted Mcdonald's Mc to it, I might like it more. (I always complained - hated wild meat - Instead of being a vegetarian, I called myself a game-a-tarian) She never seemed to succeed on teaching thankfulness in our childhood, but we have all grown up to be very thankful adults, so maybe her work did something.