Craving, after a few weeks with no pasta, I took a Sunday, popped a bottle of Cabernet Franc and cooked up a batch of sauce and meatballs. A pound each of ground chuck, pork and venison (substituting for the veal in my mother’s recipe) yielded 34 meatballs measured precisely-within reason-with an old ice cream scoop. Lost only one to Loki, who was quite deserving having sat attentively through the whole mixing process. I had to turn my back so he thought he was getting away with something. Of course this all put me in mind of my mother, who used the same sauce and meatball recipe (excepting the veal as noted) for our Sunday dinner and to provide a takeout meal for her little sister and her disagreeable husband who we all knew finagled for the free meals but wouldn’t eat at the house because of Mom’s cats.
I was visiting one Sunday evening and remember my mother taking the call by the sink, the coiling cord stretched across the kitchen from the wall phone near the door. She did a lot of listening and when she looked my way, rolled her eyes just enough. It seemed that her brother in law had found a cat hair in a meatball that had come from Mom’s Free Kitchen (that would have been from Sammy, a great old soul who spent his days languidly chasing the sun from window to window). Now my mother’s sister was sobbing that they couldn’t take any of my mother’s food anymore, such was her husband’s disgust. Mom cooed apologies and the fervent wish he would reconsider, but for naught. By the time she finally came to hang up the phone she had to spin a small circle to uncurl herself from the cord.
She sat, lit a Salem and exhaled the menthol smell of my childhood. “I’ve been trying to figure out how to stop cooking for that dunderhead”, she said, getting as vulgar as she would, “I just couldn’t figure out how.” We laughed, had a drink and when the time came for me to invite people over to the housewarming of my new place I “accidentally” forgot to invite my aunt and uncle until it was much too late for them to accept. It would be a full decade before my aunt stepped into any of my homes and only then after the dunderhead had died under a transmission that he wouldn’t pay a mechanic to fix.
Thus are families broken, over meatballs and cat hairs.
There was the time that cousin Jeffy came back from a morning in the fields and breakwoods out back carrying an old cigar box full of songbird eggs that he had pilfered from nests. There were different shades of blue ones, white ones, brown speckled, black speckled…a kaleidoscope of small, some round, some oval, unborn birds. His father, a birder with a long life list positively raged at the carnage. “You must take them back immediately”, he roared. “Put them back where you found them!” Jeffy, the ever obstinate, said no. Then, to perhaps appear less confrontational said he couldn’t remember where he got them all. Uncle, not a big man, sputtered, balled his fist and punched him square in the nose. Jeffy was ten or eleven at the time and took the punch well though he sat down hard on the floor as blood flowed apace. With a stunned grin, Jeffy opened the box on his lap and picked out a sky blue egg that even I knew was a robin’s. He popped it into his mouth and swallowed it whole while Uncle, roaring, reached for the belt he wasn’t wearing because it was the weekend. Then, with both of us frozen, he picked out another-a small speckled one-and held it up between pointer and thumb. “It’s a chickadee Jeffery. Put it back!” Jeffy’s low giggle was more of a growl, coming from deep within his chest. This time, when he popped the egg into his mouth he bit down with a sickening crunch then opened his lips in a ghastly smile pushing yolk and bits of shell through his gapped teeth. His father, apoplectic, screamed and pulled the china cabinet over trying to brain the boy. He missed as dishes crashed into shards across the linoleum. His voice choked with fury, he ran into the next room looking for something to beat the boy with. Jeffy looked at me with wide, wild eyes and picked another egg, this one larger than the others. With another growl he smashed it into his forehead and laughed as the yolk and slime rolled down his face to mix with the blood. Fearing finally that whatever brand of crazy was going on might have been catching, I bolted through the backdoor, knocking it off its hinges and stumbled over the garbage can. “Not the Lark!!” I heard Uncle cry as the tea kettle came crashing through the kitchen window behind me.
Postcard sent from my grandfather to his estranged wife in December of 1943.
The legend reads “Seneca Rock900 feet high, overlooking old Seneca Indian Trail or Warriors Path, which was the Indian Highway from New York to the South in West Virginia.”
A climbing friend of mine has “been to the top of that rock more times that I can count via a hundred different routes. I have no doubt some of those Native Americans took a detour to the summit too. The right-hand peak is only about three feet wide at the top, a person can sit with each foot dangling over the opposite valley.”
The postcard reads in a crimped script:
Arrived as usual, O.K. Will be in Montgomery for part of next week, so don’t fail to write. Do you still remember? Keep smiling.
Be seeing you.
It was one of two mailings sent from Mullens, WV in the same day. A letter and this card went to two different addresses in Mon City. He was either unsure exactly where she was staying or simply wanted to cover all bases.
He was thirty eight at the time and had three kids who had been shipped off to his mother.