Our stepmother Beatrice had a knack for making hamburgers that could double for hockey pucks. They were gray in color, very thick and difficult to eat. Sometimes she would forget to buy buns so we would use bread. The grease from the hockey pucks would soak through the bread and run down your arm. Pretty soon you had a doughy greasy mess and would just give up.
One thing she loved was Coca-Cola. My sister Abby and I would help ourselves to as much pop as we could drink when she wasn’t looking. She would question who was drinking up all her Coke and we would pretend not to hear. Often her kids were blamed for the disappearing pop and we were off the hook. We felt it was OK because we were held in contempt by her on many other occasions.
Most of the time, Beatrice didn’t bother with buying groceries and creating a meal. She would ask my dad to stop by the market and pick up some hamburger and buns or she would ask him to stop at Kentucky Fried Chicken for a take-out meal. We would delve into whatever he brought home and in a matter of minutes, the food would disappear.
Later on, Beatrice would ask us to recall in front of some of her five minute friends the “great big holiday meals” she would prepare. My sister and I always pretended to have a memory problem and said we really couldn’t remember her holidays. The truth was that we remembered them all too well.
Thanksgiving and Christmas always went the same way. Dad put in a turkey late at night and cooked it all night at a low temperature–a sure recipe for ptomaine poisoning. Beatrice fixed instant mashed potatoes and dressing that could be wrung out with your hands because it was so drippy. She also took a head of cauliflower and placed a jar of cheese over it before microwaving it within an inch of its life. She made noodles that were okay if you liked slimy, doughy things. Finally, the only good thing at the feast appeared. It was the pies she had ordered from Schwartz’s. They were creamy and delicious, but unfortunately, Beatrice never ordered enough of them. Everyone liked the coconut cream which disappeared in a matter of seconds. The other pies were pumpkin and sometimes cherry.
After the meal was over, Beatrice said she was worn out from cooking. Lindy, Sissy, and I were left to clean up the enormous mess. Somehow Beatrice had used every pan in the kitchen in creating this fairly mediocre meal. Her parting words to us were:
None of the dishes can go in the dishwasher. Everything must be washed by hand.
I had just run the first in a series of sinks of soapy water, when Sissy received her telephone call from her best friend Lucy. Lucy had strict instructions to call just as we were starting the dishes on every holiday and she rarely missed the moment. Sissy then spoke to her the entire time we were scrubbing the mountain of dishes and pans. This started in high school and continued on into adulthood. It was one of our many “Far From Normal” holiday traditions.