As a kid growing up, what we had for dinner was more than food. It told a story. It gave deep insights about the state of the household. After a while, it became so predictable that just by smelling what we were having for dinner, you knew whether times were good, bad, whether new money was coming in the door, or even if someone in the family had just died. Each meal articulated something very specific and even as a young kid, I quickly learned to decipher the language of our household meals.
BAKED HAM - My folks weren't big ham eaters. So if you smelled ham, somebody was dead, straight up! What followed was an impromtu haircut, a lot of cleaning up and tons of phone calls to the house. We were either about to have a lot of company or go to someone's house who already did. We had a few deaths in the family as a kid and the smell that sticks out to me is ham with pineapples and cheap beers.
BREAKFAST FOR DINNER - Breakfast for dinner meant there were absolutely ZERO groceries in the house. You know that sad sight of opening up the fridge and seeing the back of that mofo. We all know it! So to play it off, my moms would fry some eggs and bologna, bake some biscuits and it would be on. We'd all sit down to the table, passing the jelly for our biscuits, as we washed it down with Pepsi.
SUNDAY DINNER - Sunday dinner was the shit. But the cool thing about it at my house was, it wasn't only served on Sunday. Any time my mother was off from work, I can remember walking home from school and time we stepped onto our street, we could smell the aroma just oozing out the house. My moms got down on her off days. You could smell fried chicken, candied yams, macaroni and cheese, collard greans and all kind of other goodies in the air. If you smelled a Sunday dinner and it wasn't Sunday, my mother was really relaxed, which translated into her going way over the top to please the family.
SUNDAY DINNER ON FRIDAY - A Sunday dinner on Friday meant important guests were coming in from out of town. Either our grandparents or someone they were trying to show off for.
MICKEY D's - At my crib, McDonalds was reward food. I hated going to the doctors as a kid and since I had asthma real bad when I was younger, that was all the damn time. Mickey D's came after a visit to the doctor's or dentist's office. You leave the doctor's office mad, lips poked out, arm sore from the shot dude just gave you and fifteen minutes later, you had a shit eating grin on your face as you stuffed a cheeseburger down your throat followed by the cold chaser that was always orange drink!
CHILLI AND HOT DOGS - Chilli and hot dogs meant the first cold Saturday of the winter had arrived. We usually ate off it two to three days.
SALMON CROQUETS - This was one of my favorite meals, but my old man hated it! So if you smelled salmon croquettes, with white rice and gravy, the old man was out of town on business. It also meant I got the lion's share of the dinner. This meal made me feel like a man. So what I was eight. I'd even slide over into his chair to complete the effect!
BAKED BEANS & HOT DOGS - If I smelled this shit, moms was out of town and pops was cooking. To this day, my old man is no chef. In fact, besides some really bad scrambled eggs, this is the only meal I ever saw him cook up as a kid. Sometimes my mother would go out of town for a funeral or something and the rest of us would stay home. Each time, my sister and myself were fed large plates of my old man's specialty. Oh yeah, he had the nerve to serve it up with Ritz crackers on the side – like it went together or something. We always complained when he cooked it, but I secretly didn't mind the taste at all.
SPAGHETTI OR LASAGNA - This was my mother's way of saying "I will not be cooking for the next three or four days, so eat up." My mother made the biggest pots of spaghetti and the biggest pans of lasagna. We'd eat on it forever and never got mad about it cause it was so good.
VIENNA SAUSAGES, POTTED MEAT, & SPAM - Believe it or not, there was a time in my childhood when I cheered when this stuff was served up. If you could get past that nasty ass yellowish meat jelly that hung over the meat like a dark cloud, it was smooth sailing. My folks pushed this on us when they had to go out and they didn'ty want us messing with the stove. So it was a big box of Premium white crackers and all the canned meat we could eat.
PINTO BEANS & RICE - My pops is a Souther dude who doesn't give a damn about meat, but he loves beans. So this meal meant my old man had to go out of town on business for a while. So moms usually blessed him with one of his favorites.
NECK BONES & BUTTER BEANS - This one meant my old man was just getting back in town from a business trip and moms wanted to greet him right. If you've never had the pleasure of sucking on a neckbone, consider yourself lucky. It's all kind of weird juice and white stuff that comes out of them bones. At the time it was good. (Now you can understand why I didn't eat pork for fifteen years.)
CUBE STEAK & BAKED POTATOES - This was our "let's celebrate" meal. It usually meant some new money had come into the house. A promotion or something like that. We always ate a salad with it. And this was one of the few times we ever had desert with our meal. My folks didn't do dessert. Dessert for us was usually Jello with fruit cut up in it. But when we had cube steak and potatoes, there was usually an apple pie sitting on the stove to go with it.
Q-KING - Back home in St. Louis, there used to be this spot on Kingshighway called BBQ KING. Man it was good. My barber shop was in the vicinity, so after I got my shag trimmed up and lined, (yeah fool, I had a shag growing up, like 82-83) my pops would stop at a pay phone to get my mother and sister's order and it was always right over to Q-KING's. My favorite was the hot link sandwhich with that white ass Wonder bread with barbeque sauce poured over it until it just melted in your mouth.
PIZZA - If we were eating pizza at my house, throw some confetti in the air and pop open a grape soda, IT'S PAY DAY. Each pay day like clock work, we ate pizza. In other words, every other friday we were eating pizza. Sometimes we ordered it, sometimes we went out to get it. But the mood was always vibrant and happy when pizza was served up.
FRIED BOLOGNA OR GRILLED CHEESE - I grew up in a house where food was always plentiful. So when we started eating too many grilled cheese sandwhiches or fried bologna and crackers back to back, you kinda knew, somebody must be broke.
FEND FO' YA'SELF - Fend for yourself was my mother's "pissed at the world" meal. This was served when my mom, an overworked school teacher, got home tired as hell and me and my sister had messed the house up real bad. The demand was simple, "clean up the damn house and fend fo' ya'self". If pops was in town, he'd bail us out with White Castles. If he was out on work, we usually ate cereal and always got in trouble later for "eating up all the breakfast food". Oh well, you gotta eat.
So there it is. And I know I'm not the only one. I'm sure the food served up at your crib as a child held hidden messages too. And if you think back hard enough, you might even remember a few. Part two coming soon. One luv.