To windward, charge! (Or, how did we make it this far?)

Thu, 01/30/2020 - 7:15pm

This coming year of 2020 my wife and I are both charging on the quick step toward our 70th trip around the sun, and sometimes we have little discussions about how we got this far — in one piece. We both came up in Scotch/Irish/Yankee working-class families in Pawtucket, R.I. in the 50s. We came of age in parochial schools where our parents pretty much hoped for the best when they sent us off to learn some academics, and develop a stern moral compass. While Cindy was pious and studious; I was neither. Rather, I was hell bent because of my Type A deal, and acted up any way possible for the pure joy of burning up energy — I was an unbridled kid. (I could not sit still. My mom called me an “itch.”) Moreover, we came up at a time when kids were encouraged to be outside playing, and hanging with other kids their own age where we would be forced to make friends while playing sand lot ball, fishing, ice skating, climbing trees, making forts in the woods, rigging up hawk swings, riding bicycles (no one wore a helmet), smoking copped burners from our mom’s stash, and generally just looking to raise hell and have some fun — outdoors. (Ahem, I read somewhere recently that kids should be outside playing for at least four to six hours a day, for at least three to four days a week. These numbers don’t surprise me at all seeing that kids — heaven forbid that they don’t — get enough, ahem, screen time. Damn, do I sound like an old curmudgeonly geezer, or what!

Besides discussing our roving neighborhood activities as kids, my wife and I will sometimes compare notes on what our families ate in the 50s and 60s. For some context I must add the following anecdote. This year’s Block Island Ferry annual Christmas party was held again at Spain in Narragansett. Moreover, this year’s party was very well attended — the biggest ever — and naturally we all had lots of laughs and a great meal. It was also great seeing everybody dressed up and not wearing their work clothes. The food — as always — was exceptional. Various appetizers such as shrimp, stuffed littlenecks, stuffed mushrooms, and calamari, were followed by entrees such as filet mignon, surf and turf, chicken, swordfish and a vegetarian dish. It was a great night. (Big thanks to the entire Linda family for the very generous party!)

Now, the aforementioned menu is in sharp contrast to some of the things the McDonald and Houlihan kids ate in their youths. For example, Cindy and I were recently eating supper and discussing the merits of baloney and olive loaf which we both made sandwiches with in our younger days. We shared the common technique of frying our baloney, and discussed the importance of the baloney cupping on the frying pan. “Did you make sure the rim of the baloney was singed black, for flavor before you made the sandwich?” I asked. “Of course,” she said, “and you had to use Wonder Bread,” she said. I added, “And French’s yellow mustard, with Hellmann’s mayonnaise, but that was only after the slice of pre-wrapped Kraft cheese placed on top of the dome was completely melted and vaporizing on the frying pan.” We also discussed how lucky we were to be alive for the invention of the TV dinner, which contained: peas, potatoes, turkey, gravy and stuffing — what’s not to like? Cindy became partial to the cubed steak as the TV dinner ascended the ambrosial ladder. Furthermore, we both can remember not ever eating a vegetable that didn’t come out of a can. And, both our mothers were big on instant potatoes — big. Nota Bene: every once in a while, my wife will buy some olive loaf and a loaf of Wonder Bread; it doesn’t last too long. And, she always uses instant potatoes for my shepard’s pie — always.

Growing up in the 50s and 60s was a time of broken bones, skinned knees, and blackened eyes. One day I jumped off our garage — don’t know why, just did — and sprained my foot. Climbing in the rafters in a neighbor’s garage one day, I fell 10 feet onto a stack of 2 x 4s and whacked the bridge of my nose, which resulted in two black eyes — for Easter. “Put some ice on it,” said my mom, “the swelling will go down. You’ll live, Joey, now go outside.” I used to give my little brother a morning flip before school. It was a move I learned from a kid I wrestled with in the sand lots. My little brother didn’t land the way I told him to, and he broke his arm. I thought my dad would be upset after he got home from work that day, but he just nodded, “Well, it was an accident, be more careful when you’re wrestling,” he said.

My wife and I are old school and don’t forget our formative years. Without question, we’ll be outside, as we were as kids. While the bride will go and do her traveling thing until she’s not able, I’ll sail my boat, and ride my bicycle until I, also, can’t. We know the importance of movement as we age. Finally, we’ll eat good food but will always give a nod to our past and revisit, perhaps, something delectable, such as a peanut butter and bacon sandwich — on Wonder Bread white!