TWO MEATBALLS & MASHED POTATOES, twenty-five cents


meatballs

Lunchtime did not loom large in my imagination during my youth Justifiable perhaps given the likelihood of all too familiar contents in my paper bag or lunch pail. I don’t recall seeing a single cafeteria, serving what I imagined to be delicious lunches. In the small two room schoolhouse in New London, Connecticut, I am sure there was none; there was barely room for the four grades of children crammed into its old walls. Give the economics of the Depression era I would not have been allowed to eat in a cafeteria anyway.

Life and lunchtime changed when we moved to Alameda, California in my junior year however. In our own small enclave surrounding the high school, there was a bakery, a coffee shop, a music store which allowed you to listen to records before buying, a few small shops, a movie theater and J.C. Penney, where I began working to earn money to spend at these stores.

And among these stores, a mere block and a half from the school, was the Alameda Delicatessen, advertising two meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, and all for twenty-five cents! This was the era when gasoline was less than a dollar, but twenty-five cents was still a bargain. My feet wore a path to the deli each day at noon, and in spite of ridicule from classmates, I ate there daily for the remaining two years of high school.

Sixty years later, at a class reunion, a much admired former classmate, who had been a professional baseball player and then scout, confessed that he too had gone to the Deli every day of his high school life, and had eaten meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy and paid twenty-five cents. He too knew a bargain when he saw it.

The large Swedish company IKEA, sells plates of meatballs and gravy to hundreds of people daily. They even sell bags of meatballs you can keep in your freezer for people longing for a meatball fix at home. Costco sells huge bags of meatballs as do a lot of other stores. If people didn’t love meatballs no one would go to the trouble. A local food editor last week did a whole column rating the quality of the meatballs sold at various stores in the area. Whole Foods got the best rating, and it went downhill from there, with some poor company rating no stars. And speaking of Stars, which is the offering at your last cocktail party which got the most action? The large cauldron of meatballs in spicy sauce, right?

Countries around the world have their own version of the meatball. In my husband’s Danish family they are called frikadellar, and are served with mashed potatoes and gravy.

But I have to say, none of these meatballs can hold a candle to those twenty-five cent meatballs at the old Deli which has long ago closed its doors. They are still the best meatballs I ever ate.

THE COLORS OF YOUR LIFE


Blanket Swirl

Swirling Colors” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland Rasmussen

We each live many lives. While looking out my kitchen window this morning, watching the life of my neighborhood, I realized, that I have not always lived in a neighborhood, and it’s really quite nice. Color swirls about us moving us through to the next phase of our existence.

There are the new neighbors from Burma trimming their garden painstakingly. A young girl passes by frequently and we wonder about her. She is sad looking and does not look up nor answer a greeting. She just plods along to somewhere. There is the man we call the “Rock man” because we thought he always had a load of rocks in his backpack. It turned out to be his groceries. We recognize the neighborhood dogs being led on their daily excursions. It is through them that we ask their names and finally the names of their guides.

An old couple go by holding hands. They are stooped and have that peculiar rocking motion old people frequently have. The ethnic diversity has changed through the years. Instead of predominately blond, blue-eyed children walking to local schools, we see more dark hair these days. Mothers who help teachers walk past on field trips to the nearby children’s museum, frequently wear head scarves or saris. Through the years, the clothing may have changed, but the quirky behavior of the kids remains the same. Each year we seem to lose a few plants in the parking strip as energetic boys push each other into them. The language has changed however, with an inordinate use of the “F” word.

It also made me think of all the places I have lived in my life. I am a “Navy Brat”, which is what the children of Navy personnel are called. It is a proud appellation, and I’m sure all the “Army Brats” feel the same pride in their father’s career. The actor, Robert Duvall is an Army Brat, and has the same history of moving to new ports. You learn to make friends fast because you probably won’t stay long. During my school years up till the end of high school, it meant an annual migration for me. Even the birds migrate. We lived in a series of forgotten apartments, a couple of which had bathrooms down the hall.

I got used to always being “the new kid” at school. The routine was always the same. Someone took you to the right room and the teacher introduced you to the class, who then looked you over closely, and determined immediately whether you were worth knowing. The boys took the opportunity to make faces at their friends and the girls narrowed their eyes and sent the message that you were not “one of them”. I was never invited to an “overnight” stay until I was thirteen, and my father would not have allowed it anyway. The argument “all the other kids get to do it”, never went over with him. Girl Scouts and Campfire Girls were out of the question.

On my tenth birthday I had a birthday party with three other little girls in our neighborhood in Long Beach, California. I wore a peach-colored dress and a birthday hat. In New London, Connecticut, I was invited to a party when I was eleven, at which “Spin The Bottle” was played. I wore a new yellow silk dress, and when I found out the game meant you had to actually kiss a boy, I called my mother to come and take me home! We went as a family to see “Gone With The Wind” in 1939 when it opened in Hartford, Connecticut. I had a new pink coat, and hat with a streamer. My mother had a new dress and my father was out of uniform in a new suit which I had never seen before.

Strange how I always remember what I wore on various special occasions. In my last two years of high school, I joined the ROTC and wore a cool uniform. When I graduated from high School in Alameda, California, I wanted to join the Navy and wear a WAVE uniform, but being only 17 and underage, and my Navy father would not sign.

Though I love color, I have always identified myself as a sculptor who happens to paint. In sculpture, color merely enhances what the lines have already accomplished. We are all a mass of swirling colors hurrying to the next phase of our existence.