Through Any Given Door

2.02 Blackened Toast

1954 • San Jose ~ Mom still cooked and cleaned house for the priests. While she dusted and vacuumed the rectory, I starred in my own variety show, singing and doing the Hokey Pokey on the back patio where no one could see me. I had a red plastic portable record player and a record collection of two: I’m a Little Teapot with The Teddy Bear’s Picnic on the flip side, and The Bunny Hop with The Hokey Pokey on the reverse. Those were the only times I could play them over and over, while she was vacuuming.

Once a week she’d cook a dinner for us in her Dutch oven, so there were a few days of stew, soup, or spaghetti leftovers. Some Sunday mornings she’d make pancakes, smothered in roast beef gravy with dime-sized polka dots of catsup. To most people, gravy and catsup on pancakes doesn’t sound very good, but to me, they were heavenly.

I developed a liking for cold spaghetti. I was nervous using the gas stove, afraid of striking the wooden match which either broke in half or wouldn’t catch, and if it finally did catch, of having to light the burner before the match went out, ignite the gas before the stove exploded, or drop the match before burning the fingers on my right hand while holding the pilot light button with my left. I needed three hands so as not to fill the house with gas, start a fire, or blow my head off. After singing my bangs and hair on my face more than once, I decided it was too complicated, not to mention dangerous. The only appliances we had were the small stove, Mom’s freestanding Dutch oven, and a toaster. The only one I was comfortable with was the toaster, and even that was vaguely hazardous as it didn’t always pop up and I was afraid to pry the bread out with a knife. Blackened toast was my specialty.

Along with cold spaghetti or leftover meatloaf sandwiches, my main diet for the next four years was iceberg lettuce with red wine vinegar, or lemons cut into quarters sprinkled with salt, both of which took the enamel off my teeth but helped calm my stomach. I ate Bosco and Wonder Bread sandwiches. I ate teaspoons of powdered sugar and packets of green Kool-Aid and red JELL-O out of the box. I ate Oreos, sliding the dark sides apart and licking the creamy filling first, and Ritz crackers, and bowls of Cheerios with three spoons of sugar. My mother tried to cure my stomach cramps and pinworms with little brown pills. She often dosed me with Castor oil, Carter’s Little Liver Pills, Epsom Salts, Milk of Magnesia, Pepto-Dismal, or her favorite, Bromo-Seltzer. She also used the red enema bag that hung on the towel rack. As I remember, her cures were worse than what ailed me.

to be continued…

© 2018. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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  1. Susan Dalberg says:

    Gagging was always our dessert. You sure our mothers were related? LOL

  2. What are Bosco sandwiches? Most of our food was from cans. On Fridays we had canned salmon and a side of canned green peas. When I was about eight, I decided to cook dinner one Friday night when my mother was incarcerated at Stockton State hospital. I mashed the salmon and added the peas and margarine. I called it creamed fish and peas. Even my dad liked it.

    • Bosco is chocolate syrup poured onto to a slice of Wonder Bread with another slice on top. Oh god, it’s amazing we are around to even tell these stories. I’m sorry about your mom. Stockton was probably the only state hospital my mother missed.

  3. That’s a tough way to grow up.

  4. Janet Sasaki says:

    My diet was a lot better, it is amazing that you turned out so well. Our mother was a pretty good cook, lots of casseroles. She said store bought food and over the counter stomach cures cost too much. But you reminded me of the dreaded enema bag, I can still see the whole bathroom with it. Also, we had to take washcloth baths daily, and only one bath a week.

  5. Jim Chatfield says:

    Wow, you must have had a cast iron stomack. With a diet like that you sure turned out by having a good looking figure when laying on the beach. You looked like a pin-up girl.

    • My diet improved when my sister took me in. Thank goodness! I was much healthier in junior high and high school. I’m sure that’s why I’m so indisposed to eating junk food. Know it can kill you.

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