Thursday, March 31, 2016

#rememberingmymotheronebiteatatime rice-a-roni



Convenience may not be the most delicious, but it is a consideration. My mother worked full time, had little money and took whatever help she could get. She loved Rice-A-Roni. It was her way to elevate the same old same old, so in my eyes Rice-A-Roni became the mother-from-which-all-other-rice-dishes-derived; Biriyani, Arroz con Gandules, Mujaddara—even Chinese fried rice. Ass backwards, and the crazy thing is subliminally I still felt this despite knowing something of the crisscrossed journey of rice and recipes across time. We hold tight to what our mothers teach us despite the things we learn.

As a kid the elongated vermicelli and swollen grains were an impressionistic tangle of tasty earth tones on an otherwise hum drum plate. And eating something with such a happy tv jingle meant we too were a happy tv home. Now, the hydrolyzed corn gluten and dehydrated parsley flecks in true Proustian form carried me back through time, but the flavor set-off a collapse of painstakingly built illusion. The salty pilaf, like our dutifully held premise of happiness, turns out to have been make-believe.

In 1960, my mother, the shy youngest of shtetl immigrants, divorced my father who was having an affair, or maybe he left her—I never knew. Either way it was a distinction among her siblings and extended relatives, which speaks to her liberalism, and also how bad her marriage must have been. Dogged by missing support checks, the string of live-in nannies, my sister’s troubles—it was more than she could handle even though I tried so hard to make it right.

That bite of Rice-A-Roni after forty-five years filled my mouth with vitriol. Its broken promise tasted of my mother’s shortcomings, her weaknesses, my father’s narcissism, his absenteeism, my sister’s fragility, my passivity. Our missed connections. That bite ripped open memories I would have liked to forget. I scraped the Rice-A-Roni into the trash and left the pan on the counter where the rice dregs dried to crust.


Two days later washing my mother’s precious pan I was filled with such sadness. This is what she did. She fed us, then washed the dishes through her sadness and disappointment. She did the best she could. 

5 comments:

  1. Loved hearing you read this last night. It's as rich and flavorful as a mystical memory taste of Rice A Roni.

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  2. We do indeed hold fast to what a parent teaches, and this vignette though raw and quite sad offers an opportunity to reflect upon what you need to retain what you retain instinctively and what you chose to retain.

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    1. Thanks Tami. I'm finding it fascinating pulling apart all these things. Doing by actual making and tasting these foods makes the experience so direct and easy to access. Food is wonderful that way!

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  3. This post made me choke up. Your honesty in facing these most difficult contradictions. Your anger and empathy both feed the reader. Whether it be Rice-a-Roni or chocolate pudding, these childhood foods are not only a writer's muse but a soul-searching pursuit for us all.

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    1. wow--thank you. So appreciate this feedback as I soldier on with this project. Sometimes I feel lost in my own private grief--but what I hope is for the work reaches out past that.

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