Columbia records

Happy Holidays 3 (Easter:1960s)

The Best Easter on Record 

On Easter Sunday the family came to our house and my mother always made Lasagna.

While it was derived from the same recipe my grandmother had given to Aunt Kay, it did not quite taste the same as hers. Aunt Kay’s sauce always had tomato pits in it, creating unwanted little crunchies that always seemed to get stuck between my back molars. My mother’s sauce was far better than Kay’s and not bad for a woman who had never even heard the word Lasagna when she was a child. She usually subscribed instead to The Bible of Southern Cuisine, whose first commandment reads:

And if thee findeth that it can be fried, so then shall ye fry it.

The family debate on this day would then center on the various merits of the potentially numerous methods of making Lasagna, what does or what does not go in it or it and then whose recipe was better or best. It was just another circular, no-win conversation: Is sausage the best? Or is it hamburger? Should it be a mixture of both and if so how much of each? Do you use whole milk or part-skim mozzarella? Should the Ricotta cheese go on separate layers? What is the best way to enhance the Ricotta taste? What’s the best baking temperature? Do you cover it all the way through the cooking or just at the end? Do you put Mozzarella on the top? Do you braise the top or just let it rest?

After that they got onto the noodle nuance debate; followed once again by the argument about sauce versus gravy.

It would be foolish of anyone to think that chicken and salad did not come next.

However on this date we actually got a real dessert when the Southern tradition finally broke through the Mediterranean shield. No stale cookies fruit or nuts . And beside plain delicious Hershey’s chocolate Easter Bunnies instead of mystery center-filled generic Whitman’s samples, my mother always made a lemon chiffon pie and a southern pecan pie, both served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Nothing could be finer.

Then predictably every year when Uncle Jimmy had a piece of the pecan he would remark that it was unbelievable anyone could make a pie from a nut. He called them Pee-cans, the proper pronunciation being Pee-cahn; which generated yet another round of debates over pronunciation.

Every time he said this, my mother would defuse the issue by asking him:

  • So Jim. Then do you know exactly where you have to store your Pee-cans?”

He would say:

  • No.

Then she would say:

  • Under your bed.

The response being:

  • Huh?

They had the same conversation for over a decade and for over a decade Uncle Jimmy fell for it every time, never getting it right because in truth it was unlikely he really got the joke in the first place.

  • So Ruth? I still don’t get exactly why you would keep a can of nuts under your bed.

 

On this day there were no special songs to commemorate the risen Christ or any child prodigy music recitals. Perhaps instead we should have just rolled a giant rock around the house to commemorate the opening of Jesus’ tomb, as that exercise could not have been any more ludicrous than the Festival of the Coconut Cake on Christmas. As a child the concepts were difficult for me to grasp. Jesus: First he is born, then four month later he rides into town on a donkey, within a week the Romans kill this holy man instead of a thief; and then after three days of funereal mourning, he comes back to life again on Sunday. Black dresses and veils for Friday. White dresses and bonnets for Sunday.

However on one particular Easter, Uncle Jimmy had a car trunk load of brand new, never before played 78-speed recordings of classical, jazz, and operatic music pieces. By that time 33-speed recording was in vogue and I suppose they were not marketable, so he just gave them to us boys. Nobody seemed to even remotely think anything of their potential future value to a collector.

So while our oblivious parents sat around the table gassing, gossiping and quibbling after dinner, my cousin Jimmy, my brother, and I spent the better part of the afternoon heaving the vinyls by the hundreds from the bank in front of our house into the woods across the street. We watched in glee as they sailed like a fleet of invading flying saucers that one by one smashed into thousands of pieces against the trees: The original Frisbee festival.

Years later when the building lot where we had thrown them was developed, our neighbor came over one day to ask my father if he had any idea why his new lawn had begun to repeatedly spit what appeared to be hundreds of broken record fragments.

My father said he didn’t know.

He was telling the truth. 

 

Columbia recordsFly me to the moon

And let me sing among the stars

Let me see what spring is like

On Jupiter and mars

(Frank Sinatra)

Photo source: Wikipedia

Cousins 1

Cousins 1 

Aunt Rose and Uncle Ed had two children, Linda and Rosemary. Linda was about two years older than I was, a different gender with an altogether separate agenda; so I never really bonded with her. Uncle Jim and Aunt Kay had two children, Laura and Jimmy, otherwise wise known as “Little Jimmy.” Laura was Linda’s age, so naturally the two of them usually aggregated and then segregated themselves from the other children. Laura had a great sense of humor, being very sarcastic in a jocular way that made her fun. Linda, on the other hand, was a straight laced, humorless clone of her mother.

“Rosemary” must have been a matronymic derivative combining both her mother and the Virgin mother’s names. Perhaps this binary legacy was too much to live up to, as she reflected neither persona; usually being relatively non-verbal, sullen and withdrawn. She was about four years younger than Linda and never seemed to be included in the older sister’s holiday activities. She ate almost nothing at any of the family gatherings. But I was too naïve to ask her if it was because she was equally nauseated as I was by this Holy Day of Obligation, or if it was because there was something else going on in her life.

Because the children were consigned to their own table in the kitchen to keep them ferreted away from the adults; Rose would periodically come in from the dining room to check on, to coddle and to perseverate as she prodded her daughter. She called her “Poodgie”

  • What’s the matter Poodgie. Aren’t you hungry? Don’t you want to eat some of this nice food? Grandma made it just for you. It’s your favorite. Raviolis. You know you love raviolis. Come on, Poodgie. Eat. Eat. You’ll feel better. Eat. Eat. If you don’t eat you’ll just waste away.

No wonder she never ate. Rosemary would just sit with her arms crossed, frowning, pouting, and then eventually escaped to her room. She was not in any way emaciated, so I knew she had to be eating something, somewhere, at some point in time; but there also was little doubt that some hidden social or eating disorder was still darkly lurking; secreted somewhere in the background. In retrospect I occasionally wonder what may have gone on behind closed doors to possibly make Rosemary the way she was, while heavily discounting in my own mind that it was anything but fawning, coddling and gentle prodding. Although it then became another one of those predictable annual discussions for everyone to ask ‘what’s the matter with Rosemary?’ everyone then just went about the usual business of Christmas leaving the question of “what’s the matter with Rosemary or why she never ate dinner?” to go perpetually unanswered.

One particularity vivid holiday memory occurred when Laura and Linda were excitedly squealing about getting some 45-speed recordings of a new musical phenomenon named Elvis Presley, then playing them repetitiously in the bedroom. At first I thought they were crazy because the music was so strange, but that opinion quickly reversed as I too soon embraced the new musical ideology of Rock and Roll.

Meanwhile, although Uncle Jimmy was a wholesale dealer for Columbia records, and could have supplied me with plenty of free vinyls over the years, he somehow never seemed to have any of the good contemporary Rock performers.  He would periodically show up at our house to give my parents piles of LP albums with a big red ink “DEMONSTRATION: Not for Sale” stamped on the front or the back.

None of them were recognizable as famous contemporary artists or headlining songs but instead was just all the junk that could not be sold anywhere, as they moldered away in his dead inventory pile. When he needed some room for more junk, he just “generously” purged the trunk of his car in our driveway. My father said it was a thoughtful gesture whereas my mother suggested it was an oblique insulting innuendo about our lack of sophisticated musical taste.

For example although I never did get any of Bob Dylan’s albums, I still have a copy of the ever-popular and ever generic, so-not Tito Puente,  bottom of the five thousand hit parade album: “The Calypso Carnival.”

 

Calypso Carnival

 

Cause it’s the chicken gumbo

And the Okra water

Makes you do the things you out to

(Calypso aphrodisiac song)