I read an interview with Calvin Trillin today. He said, every family has a theme that runs through it.
I can dig that. I grew up with some very Catholic and Jewish friends. Lessons and classes were always interfering with plans. I went to Bible School every summer for a few weeks, for a couple years. Other than that, I think we were Presbyterians. We attended church on some Christmases.
Religion wasn’t my family’s theme. Neither was education. Mom and Dad took the attitude, don’t bring home a bad grade and we’ll be okay. Several other themes were possible. Mom married multiple times in a quest for happiness. She’d taken private vows not to be like her mother, cold, hard, distant. Mom would be friends with her children. We would play games together.
Man, did we play games. Card games, ball games in the backyard, board games, Mom was always up to playing a game with us. Tripoley, a card game Mom picked up from her in-laws, became the go-to game. There was a board, in our case, a green plastic sheet. On it were different card combinations, along with poker, and ‘out’. Everyone paid into some pots, usually two to three cents each hand. A dummy hand was dealt. The dealer had the choice to keep their hand and sell the second hand, or to pick up and use the second hand. When you evaluating a hand to see whether you would bid on the extra hand, you were looking for pay cards, like the King and Queen of Hearts, or the 8-9-10 combo, or if it was a good poker hand or one that would allow you to go out.
We always played for pennies, and had great old Maxwell House coffee cans filled with coins, because sometimes, those pennies started adding up. “Look at that King and Queen, is that silver in there? There must be eighty cents in there.” Such a large amount. No one counted it, though; counting a pot drew bad luck down on you.
My wife quickly learned about the game but most of the spouses stayed away from it. They didn’t understand how we could sit and play for several hours for a few pennies, coming away with a beam for winning almost three dollars. Woo hoo.
The theme also could be hiding. Mom taught us all to hide whenever someone came to the door. I never heard why we were hiding. Someone knocks, we freeze, falling silent, eyes wide, like it’s WW II and the Nazis have found us. “Who is that?” we’d mouth at one another. Someone would sneak to a window. Carefully peek out. We also did not answer the phone. Whoever was calling us needed to know the code: let it ring twice, hang up and call again. If you don’t use the code, we’re not answering your call.
Our family’s theme could be fragmentation. I left Mom to live with Dad when I was fourteen. The older sister moved out of state when she was nineteen. We lost contact with her. Mom moved many times in her quest to be a good single mother, work, and find joy in marriage. It just didn’t work out. Yet, whenever I returned home, it was like I’d never left. We picked up having good times, laughing at everything, playing games. My wife noticed it after a few visits.
Pressing myself for the truest answer, what is your family’s theme, I laugh and answer, “Food.” Of course. Many people probably say the same. Mom loved to cook. She loved making us happy with food, and she was a damn good cook. The sisters took it up. Holidays Fare always encumbered with too much food, too many munchies, too many desserts. Typically, there’s pies and cakes, because Mom and sisters didn’t want to overlook anyone’s favorite. There are salads as an homage to health, along with something Italian — spaghetti, ravioli, maybe, but usually lasagna — along with turkey or ham. Depends, you know? Thanksgiving always required turkey. Ham was on Easter. Burgers, bbq chicken, and hot dogs on Memorial, Labor, and Independence Days, along with the Italian entree. There is lots of food. Leftovers get divided for consumption. It was often enough to supply troops invading another country. Desserts are usually frozen for other occasions. It’s not weird in our extended family to offer someone dessert from the freezer. “I have some leftover birthday cake from Gina’s birthday.” That Gina’s birthday was two months ago didn’t matter. It was frozen; it’d still be good.
Mom loves a cook out. That’s what she calls it: cooking out. We call it grilling. While my wife and I grill vegetables, sometimes chicken, fish, or beef, Mom always grilled burgers and hot dogs. Both needed to be well done because Mom worried about food poisoning from undercooked food.
We have favorites, right? Mom’s potato salad and fried chicken are amazing. All say so, if I do say so myself. It ruined it for anyone else offering me those things. I’ve searched the world for Mom’s potato salad and fried chicken. Nowhere else comes close to her product. Mom’s Fried Chicken. It could be a thing, except we’d need to answer the door.
I guess we’ll set up a code.