Meatball Memories

It’s amazing how the most random comments can evoke memories. Some online friends were talking about meatballs yesterday and I had a sudden craving for my Mom’s meatballs.

My mom made the best meatballs ever. I remember watching her fry them up on the stove, putting each batch on a plate layered with paper towels so they could drain before getting dunked into the sauce. We’d all sneak into the kitchen to snatch a still-warm meatball off the plate, usually getting caught. Oh, but it was worth it.

The Christmas before my mom got sick, she gave me a cookbook she’d found, a reprint of the one she’d learned to cook from. It’s definitely not health food! It was originally published in 1950 and is filled with tips for entertaining as well as pictures of how to do basic cooking skills like frying an egg.

I dug out the cookbook today and quickly jotted down the ingredients before running to the grocery store. Tonight we’ll have meatball subs (we had baked spaghetti on Monday; I think the family will mutiny if we have pasta again this week) and maybe a little reminiscing, too.

Meat Balls (excerpted from Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, ca. 1950)

Mix and form into 1-1/2″ balls …

3/4 lb. ground beef
1/4 lb. ground pork
1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1/2 cup grate Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. minced parsley
2 small garlic cloves, cut fine
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

Pan-fry until browned in 4 Tbsp. hot fat…

1 cup minced onion
the meat balls

School Daze

In the morning, I can hear the unmistakable sounds of a school bus making its way through the neighborhood. Music to my ears.

Yes, the boys are back in school, as of yesterday. I hopped out of bed Monday morning as soon as my alarm went off, stuck a pan of Sister Schubert’s rolls in the oven and cheerfully encouraged each boy to “rise and shine, kiddo!” By 6:40 a.m., the only thing I could hear were Miss L’s baby snores and Honey stumbling sleepily around our bedroom.

Thanks to daily cross-country practice, they don’t get home until after 4:30, so I have about 10 hours with just one kid home — and she’s usually asleep for the first three.

I love it!

Don’t get me wrong; I love my kids and I love spending time with them. But by summer’s end, the boys spend a ridiculous amount of time getting on each other’s nerves — and mine, in the process. The start of school means routines and homework and regular bedtimes. In short, the return of harmony. Well, as much harmony as can be had in a house with two teen-aged boys, a preschooler, two cats, a dog and the two nuts who started this whole “family” thing

Connected by a Thread

When my mother died, we — all four of us plus a cat — lived in a tiny two-bedroom apartment in an Atlanta suburb. Honey was in law school and I was the sole source of income, with the exception of the living expenses included in our student loans. We didn’t have the space to store much of anything, having pared down our own belongings quite brutally before the move from Florida. I was forced to perform a similar exercise with my mother’s possessions, pruning a household full of memories down to a few boxes and plastic bins that had to be culled during weekend trips to her home four-plus hours away.

It was a tear-filled chore made more difficult by the fact that much of it was done alone. Me, in a house that was full of everything that surrounded my mother but not her. Seven years later and it still makes me weep.

To have to whittle down your memories like that really makes you value the mementos you do keep. And one of my greatest treasures is my mother’s sewing machine.

My father likes to tell me the story of buying her this machine. He’s gotten to a stage of life where he tends to repeat himself, and while I’ve heard the story so many times, I am so hungry for the things that tie to my mother that I listen to it again and again. It’s hard to say how true it is; I’ve noticed that Dad’s stories sometimes veer away from what I remember. Could be a matter of perspective or maybe he’s just romanticizing the past. Regardless, the story my father relates goes something like this:

The two met while my father was stationed in Germany with the Army. My mother — a native German — was working on post and eventually gave in to my dad’s persistent requests for a date. They were married maybe three months later. They were really young, I think he was 19 and she was 18, and setting up house for the first time. Mom told him she could cook and sew, and Dad promptly bought her a Betty Crocker cookbook so she could cook traditional American fare and a sewing machine so she could make her own clothes. And my mother promptly learned how to cook and sew since the truth was she could do neither.

True? It’s entirely possible that my mother did not know how to do either: she was the fifth of seven kids and the second daughter and probably had fewer of those chores than her sister. And she never was afraid of a challenge.

Her trusty Singer sewing machine, purchased at AAFES in the late 1960s, moved to the States and back to Germany, then back to Alabama. Mom sewed entire wardrobes for herself and me on it, including T-shirts and wrap skirts and everything a child of the ’70s could ever need. I learned how to sew on that machine, although in my mother’s lifetime I never operated it with her finesse.

Tossing it was never an option. I look at it and can recall my mother seated before it, the needle zipping through probably thousands of projects. At the time it came into my possession, I had no interest in sewing, and certainly no room for the hobby, so into the closet it went. It wasn’t until March that I tugged it from its lonely shelf, nostalgic and optimistic. All the years in storage, however, took their toll. I took it in for a cleaning, afraid that it was beyond repair.

Luckily, my worries were unfounded, although my father seems to think the $158 I paid to return it to working order is more than he originally paid for the sewing machine. Me, I think it’s worth any price to preserve my mother’s legacy.

Ain’t Love Grand?

It’s taken me the better part of the weekend to recover from my little jaunt to Florida visit my folks. The older I get, the more traveling takes out of me — but I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. The delightful Miss L and I hopped on a plane Wednesday morning, returning home in time for dinner on Friday. Yes, a quick trip and one that was much needed by all four of us.

This was L’s first airplane ride and she handled it like a pro. Navigating the country’s busiest airport can be a bit challenging but it was one of the easiest times I’ve had there in recent memory. The only hiccup was right after I installed her car seat on the plane when the most charming flight attendant loudly announced to the whole plane, “You can’t sit there!”  Ah, yes, those unwritten rules of flying that I’m supposed to have acquired through osmosis and thus knew ahead of time that anyone using a car seat on an airplane can’t sit in the rows immediately before or after the exit rows. *insert eye roll*

The visit was lovely and a complete surprise for my stepmother, who seemed visibly cheered by our arrival. We’ve spent most of our parenting years living in different states than any of the kids’ grandparents, but you’d never know it by the close relationships they have. It never fails to make me smile to see how excited they get to see each other. Our second night there, she and her granddaughter sat on the bed and played with a pile of necklaces, eliciting many giggles from both of them. (Me: “You two look like a couple of sorority girls at Mardi Gras!”) My father and the girl had fun tossing a tennis ball back and forth in the hot tub, also a first for the little missy.

Before we left, I forced my father to sit for some pictures with two of his favorite girls (four, if you count my furry half-sisters aka the world’s most spoiled dogs). You can tell from the shot above how much he just loves having his picture taken. Still, I think he’ll appreciate having the memento — almost as much as the memories.

Kissin’ Cousins

Popping on to share a couple of pics I took today. Honey’s brother and his family are visiting this weekend from NY. The little cousins bookend Miss L, and she’s having tons of fun playing with people her size. Lots of dress up with her younger, female cousin. Lots of trains and cars with her older, male cousin. It’s definitely a treat to hear so many little feet running around the house, as well as those little voices engaged in conversation. I’ve taken quite a few pics but am only sharing the ones without my niece and nephew’s faces since I don’t have permission from their folks.