This is a story about what dinners were like every night for 11 people – 9 kids and 2 adults. At one point 7 of us were teenagers. I mention this early because teenagers eat a LOT of food! Maybe we ought to start with the grocery store before we go to dinner? Mom would go to the grocery store, (Marsh Super Market), and typically at least one of us would volunteer to help out with the shopping. At the mention of a potential trip to the grocery store, the smart kids would immediately duck out, hopefully beyond shouting distance. A ‘volunteer’ was always necessary because groceries would never fit into just one shopping cart.
Remember back in the day when there were only brown paper bags at the grocery store? Do you remember that they were a lot larger than they are today? Well Mom would always drag back 11-14 of those suckers. I remember this clearly because when she’d get home, the announcement would be made for everyone who was home to go out and help carry in the groceries. We had two refrigerators and two tables. In fact, most of the whole ‘mom thing’ was all geared around feeding the mob. I guess it was sort of like being a chef at a soup kitchen – there were no tiny pots in our house.
Obtaining the groceries was just the beginning. Meal planning came next. Well, actually…if you were an expert mob feeder, you had already made at least a high level plan for the next week or so before you even did the hunting and gathering for the groceries. Mom was an expert at feeding the mob and if she had accidentally forgotten an ingredient, she was great at making substitutions. What? We forgot to buy a big roll of bologna for bologna salad? Look in the fridge and get me a package of hot dogs.
Everything was made in a pot. If it was cooked, it came in a giant pot. If it was baked, it would come out of the oven in a giant casserole dish. If it was a cold creation like bologna salad, it was prepared and stored in one of those giant Tupperware bowls.
As a side note, bologna salad is still one of my favorites that I make once or twice a year. I still have a good old fashioned hand-cranked grinder that someone gave us as a gift from a garage sale (I think that was from Kim’s mom). Bologna, Velveeta, celery, hard boiled egg, onions, Miracle Whip and sweet pickle relish – good stuff! My high school best friend Joe (read me) and I would typically eat 2-3 large sandwiches anytime we’d see bologna salad in the fridge. Ah, some good memories – who would have thought that he memory of eating bologna salad would be so comfy?
We ate a lot of pasta dishes in my house. How can you go wrong with marinara sauce? In my house you certainly cannot – I love, love, love marinara. Joe’s being first generation Italian born in America was great from a standpoint of dinners for me because we ate a lot of spaghetti, lasagna and many other pasta dishes. Mm lasagna – we have a delicious lasagna recipe:
I usually tweak this recipe by adding in some ricotta and cottage cheese as well as about 1/2 & 1/2 ground beef and pork or Italian ground sausage
Dinnertime – what was it like? It was different when we were all older vs. when we were young during the time Mom and Joe were first married. When we were older, Mom would cook the pot or bake the dish and then it would get eaten by us all on many various schedules. Joe was a traveling service technician who worked for Sealtest and would service and repair machines that made ice cream. He had a multi-state service area and typically was out of town beginning Monday morning and returning Friday late afternoon. So Mom would try to cook the pots Friday or Saturday so those who were home could enjoy a sit-down meal on the weekends. Then we would all eat from the leftovers throughout the week until it ran out and a new pot was cooked.
Dinnertime when we were younger was an adventure which I’m sure was entertaining as hell if you could be a fly on the wall. Mom would always be in charge of preparing the dinners and if some of us were home, we’d help as we could. For example, I’m an amazingly fast peeler of potatoes (no knuckle scraping). Even when we were all younger there was never a guarantee that all of us kids would be home. There was baseball and there was the Hamilton Mini Circus (to be featured in a later story) so there could be several nights a week where we were not at the dinner table at the same time.
When we were home all at once, tables would be crowded, full of plates and elbows. Normally we were separated at the tables by age – the adults would sit at one table and would be joined by a couple of us older kids. Everyone else ate at the big round wood table. With 6-7 kids sitting at the same table, without an adult to preside over the chaos, it was typically normal evening fare for something to go wrong. Spilling a drink? Ha! That was nothing. Mashed potatoes face down on the floor? Now that was more like it at my house. And if someone happened to make a more memorable goof up, naturally we kids would be understanding – we’d all jump up and immediately begin helping with the cleaning and comforting the embarrassed sibling (insert hint of playful sarcasm).
Not exactly,no, instead it sort of went like this event. My step dad Joe was a weekend warrior like most of us men. His battle was fought on the race track. He raced sprint (link & pic) and stock cars on the small dirt track at Lawrenceburg Speedway (Indiana) and then one summer he tried racing dirt bikes. So one night at the dinner table we all had a nice full plate of spaghetti with delicious marinara sauce. Felix, (the youngest boy in our clan), was perhaps 7 years old at the time. We’re all eating and chatting, (it was never quiet), when Felix demonstrated how Joe drove the stock car….with his plate.
This was an epic spill night so all of us I’m sure remember exactly what Felix said at the time. He said – this is how daddy races, vroom. And with that he had either picked up his plate or accidentally hit it with his right hand such that it came directly backwards onto himself.
Felix, (or Flex as we sometimes called him), was only 7 at the time so he was a little guy – a little guy covered from neck to knee with spaghetti and sauce. We all immediately began cracking up, pointing fingers and imitating the event. Here’s how daddy does it, here’s how daddy does it – all of us berating him at once. (Each of us got this treatment with actions like this). Today Felix is a pastor and operates a place on Main St. in Hamilton called Offerings Holy Grounds Café (check out his about page). His brothers and sisters are all proud of him so stop by sometime and say hi.
Joe was the silencer. When one of us got teased, (typically a younger one), he would let it go on for only a short time before he’d raise his voice – HEY! KNOCK IT OFF! And that was enough to get us all quiet. Joe very rarely raised a hand to any of us. He was a strong, compact man typically smiling and in a good mood so when a guy like that shows anger, well, let’s just say that none of us really wanted to test if we could take him any further.
You’ve likely heard others say, or you’ve read people write that mealtime today is nothing like it used to be. I guess that’s true for the most of us. Today most of our families has both parents working outside the house. When you work all day, who has energy to prepare a home cooked meal? It’s tough to do – the parents are tired and the kids have activities to get carted to.
Mealtime in the Russo/Wyatt house was a repeating evening adventure. Seven to eleven of us would gather together every night to eat contents out of a giant pot or casserole dish. There would be lots and lots of sibling chatter. Something was going to get spilled every night – 365 memories a year.