As far as I know, my family is not Italian. As a matter of fact I do know that my family is not Italian. Not even the least little bit. Based on my daughter’s Ancestry.com test results none of my family tree has roots that drop down that far in Europe. No, we stay well north of the English Channel. My ancestors evidently preferred to stay where it was colder and no one had a tan. But that didn’t stop us from having spaghetti once a week, every week, of my formative years.
Both of my parents handled the cooking duties in my household growing up. They each had their specialty and they each had their favorites. For some unknown reason my dad’s favorite was my mom’s spaghetti and it was a Saturday night tradition. I can remember walking in the house from playing outside in the late afternoon during the apex of my weekend and hearing Willie Nelson on the eight-track, ‘Angels Flying Too Close to the Ground’ or ‘You Were Always on my Mind’ seemed to pair best with cooking apparently. Hearing those nylon strings playing on the downbeat meant dinner was almost ready.
Mom would put a heaping portion of noodles on a plate then LADLE the sauce over the top. Sometimes a piece of garlic toast would come along with it and the block of cheddar would come out from the fridge. My brother would come out of his room to join us by this time, I would shuffle to my designated chair at the table in defeat and we would all sit down to our Saturday night dinner.
But here’s the thing, the spaghetti wasn’t that good. No, it wasn’t good at all. It’s OK, my mom already knows. I made sure she knew this each and every time it was served to me. When the rest of the world thinks of spaghetti they picture thick, meaty sauce draped over pasta. Maybe a meat ball or two adorning the pile of dark red and white. Instead I received a plate of the wire-thin spaghetti noodles topped with, what can best be described as, ground beef soup. It was some thin sauce, it was water and meat and pieces of whole tomatoes. And leaves. Yep, if you were unfortunate enough, you got one of the two or three Bay leaves that were used to make this excuse for sauce. It would be hiding somewhere in the cooked wet-meat crumbles. And when you bit down on this piece of dark-green yard waste it made the whole experience that much more awful. You would simply pull it out of your mouth and place it on the edge of the plate.
How many times I begged for a jar of Ragu. My parents scoffed at me for the mere suggestion. “That’s not real spaghetti sauce, it’s just spicy ketchup”, they would say each time as I sat staring at my steaming plate, head in my hand, hoping I could slice enough cheese to place on top to make it palatable. By this time Willie had progressed to something a little more upbeat, “On the Road Again” perhaps or “Mommas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys”, but my attitude was still more in the mood for “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”.
I would slice off another chunk of cheddar, break it up into little pieces and spread it around the plate. Strategically placing it so cheese would dominate each and every bite and do its best to cover up the taste of the bland meat-water. It was asking a lot of the cheese, but the cheese did its best. I would persevere, I would muddle through, I would eat just enough to qualify for dessert.
My Saturday night was ruined, my weekend in shambles. All would have been lost if it weren’t for my dad’s other favorite from my mom’s kitchen repertoire, banana pudding. And it would still be warm and the Nilla wafers were aplenty. Oh and CHiPs would be on in less than two hours. Everything was going to be OK.
Travis Hicks - Contributing author
Travis Hicks was born and raised in Marietta GA, and with the exception of a very brief period of living in Denver CO has lived in metro Atlanta his entire life. A childhood filled with playing outside until way after the streetlights came on, being an expert on the original Star Wars trilogy and his induction into the Front Yard Football Hall of Fame has produced the bon vivant that is Travis Hicks. Travis developed his palate for true southern food by way of his mom’s cornbread, his dad’s mashed potatoes (and knowing to never let the reverse to ever occur). Also adding to Travis’ culinary expertise is knowing that Barbeque is a noun and never a verb.