Today I’m featuring a guest writer: my big sister. Gail writes travel pieces, poetry, and memoir. This was just published in a spring edition of Our Canada, a glossy magazine put out by Readers Digest.
What follows is one her memoirs. As the oldest, Gail has more and different memories than I do of growing up in rural Ontario with our mom and dad.
I feature in this story too. Perhaps, my love for music…and musicians was inspired by Ed Sullivan’s Sunday night performers.
Macaroni Sunday by Gail M. Murray
It was the Fifties when television was still in its infancy and sitting around the living room watching TV as a family actually brought people together unlike today’s technological world of personal devices.
Dad would prepare Sunday dinner casserole – a scrumptious and flavourful mix of elbow macaroni, stewed tomatoes, Bravo tomato sauce and aged cheddar cheese. No store bought tomatoes for us. Mom had grown them in our large vegetable garden, and then spent painstaking hours simmering, pealing and canning them in mason jars to store in the root cellar.
“Bill, what are you doing with my canned tomatoes?” my mother shrieked.
“They’ll add flavour to the macaroni casserole. What are you saving them for?” he said with a wink.
It was true. Rows of canned peaches, pears, tomatoes lined the shelves in the coolest and driest part of our basement, being saved for that rainy day.
Dad had special touches with cooking like adding an egg and milk to our mashed potatoes as he whipped them into a bowl of deliciousness. No stranger to cooking, as the eldest child in his family at age twelve he was expected to have dinner on the table when his parents arrived home from their gruelling factory jobs. Dad had learned to make apple pie, beef stew, poached eggs and the piece de resistance – roast beef with roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. As my parents shared the cooking, we were in many ways quite modern for the Fifties.
My mother re-entered the workforce when my younger sister started school making me responsible for dinner at age twelve. This interfered with watching Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and learning the latest dances. Once, while watching a dance contest, I saw flames leaping from the frying pan. I rushed in to save the day just in time. After that I learned to stay with the cooking. I would get dinner started by setting the table, pealing the potatoes, chopping the vegetables. Dad would arrive home from his electrical job and give me pointers, teaching me how to cook. My dad, Bill, medium height wearing his flannel shirt and cotton pants held up by suspenders would peer out from his dark rimmed glasses at the pots and frying pans, making adjustments, frying or simmering. He had big blue eyes, an open smile and a kind heart. To a girl who did not take naturally to domesticity, he was patient and kind and never scolded unlike like my mother. Though we worked as a team, I left the real cooking to him. He knew his way around a kitchen and took pride in his fast and easy macaroni and cheese that we fussy eaters simply devoured.
Completing the casserole, Dad popped it in the oven to merge the flavours. The cheddar made a crunchy, gooey top crust.
Then we all gathered in front of the box to watch our much anticipated Tarzan movie. The station ran these action adventure films every Sunday. No question it was family fare with cheeta the precocious chimp adding humour with his zany antics and Boy (Tarzan’s adopted son) played by Johnny Sheffield, rounding out the jungle family. Though many actors played the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ hero, it was Olympic gold medal swimmer, Johnny Weissmuller, who was the quintessential ape-man.
Each film had swimming sequences and battles with crocodiles but the greatest battle Tarzan fought was with encroaching Europeans trying to ruin the harmony of the jungle by capturing wildlife illegally or harassing local tribes. Each film had Tarzan emitting his distinctive, ululating yodelling yell as he swung through the vines on a rescue mission. Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942) was my favourite with Tarzan looking uncomfortable in a suit then discovering the “hotel waterfalls” (really a shower) and standing under it wearing his suit. Soft spoken Jane was there to bridge the gap.
During the commercial we would all dash to the kitchen to fill our plates as Dad served us breaking through the crusty cheese topping. As tomato flavours escaped, he spooned the gooey mixture onto our plates. We would sit our dinner on the coffee table or on special TV trays -metal trays with legs – so your knees fit nicely underneath. Imagine creating furniture for this purpose?
Dessert was served as we segued into Walt’s Disney’s Wonderful World of Colour. Earlier in the afternoon, Mom had cut up bananas and oranges into a large glass bowl. Typical kids we craved ice cream, Oreos, chocolate chip cookies, butter tarts, Twinkies. Luckily for us Mom limited sugar consumption. I can thank her today for my love of fruit and my trim waistline.
The crowning glory of Sunday night television was The Ed Sullivan Show. This strange wizened up stone faced emcee, a former New York entertainment columnist, had an eye for talent. His was the longest running variety show in the history of television. To appear on his show was a hallmark of success. If you could sit through the plate spinners, juggling acts, and smarmy crooners you could see “live and on our stage”, the greats of Rock and Roll: Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Doors, and The Rolling Stones. Ed was the first host to break racial barriers and have African American greats like Harry Belafonte and Nat King Cole perform.
When Elvis performed Hound Dog in 1956 with his reckless gyrations, the teen age girls in the audience screamed and swooned. My three year old sister, Wendy, mimicked them squealing and hurling her little body against the back of the soft sofa in mock faint. My parents got more laughs out of her that night than the stand-up comedians.
When I think of comfort food, it takes me back to those early times with my nuclear family. Grilled cheese sandwiches, hot chocolate and macaroni and cheese lovingly prepared by my dad.