Steak DinnerWritten by admin on October 8th, 2012
By Rosalie Tirella
I am a little girl living with my mother, two kid sisters and my granny from Poland – and sometimes violent Italian father, “Daddy” – in the heart of Green Island. My father is not around these few years. Blessed years! It is like a vacation here in our Green Island flat! No fights, no yelling and … NO STEAK DINNER! No eating steak on a Friday night (when my father wanted it). No watching my mom prepare the steak or watching her as she serves the steak. Steak dinner with Daddy is no longer part of my world! Hooray!
Daddy is back with us. After being gone for a year or so. I am watching my mother make him his steak dinner. It is after her 11-hour day at the dry cleaners. It is after we kids meet her on Millbury Street and walk down to Supreme Market where she says hello to the manager – he always wore shiny black shoes and perfectly white socks – to ask him for a nice cut of meat (for my father). I forget the manager’s name but he was preternaturally cheerful, rotund, eager to please his customers. He would get someone to get my mom a great cut of steak and then my mom, my two kid sisters and I would leave, the steak wrapped in white paper and taped up with brown tape.
Home we went … .
Once home, I became preternaturally interested in the making of the meal. I would join my mother and stand a few feet from the stove watching her as she unwrapped, rinsed off and prepared the big steak. For my father. It was his steak. My father would be in the bathroom washing up after a day of trying to sell some junk he had picked up and shoved into his truck (kinda a junk man, a guy who loved old things, a guy who loved yard sales and old red kerosene lanterns) and tried to sell for scrap metal. Anyways, it was the end of his day and he was washing up in the sink, grumbling, and leaving the towel all dirty and the sink filled with dark grit. He was, believe it or not very fastidius. When it came to eat a peach or a plum, even if his hands were clean, he always picked up the fruit with a napkin and ate it with his fingers on the napkin, not touching the fruit, as if he felt he could never get un-sullied.
Then, without saying hello to me or my sisters, he would go into their bedroom, where my mom had set up a little card table and wait for his meal. He read the newspapers “articles for sale,” “used cars for sale” and sometimes he would call his sister or waitress gal pals to bitch in Italian (if it was his sister) or English (if it was one of his waitress gal pals) about how stupid my mom was and how crumby things were in Green Island.
When I was older – around 15 – and my father had returned to us after one of his jaunts, he was on the phone in the bedroom while my mom dutifully made him his steak dinner. He was talking with one of his waitresses. Without telling my mom, I went to the refrigerator, took a raw egg out of the egg carton, went to my parents’ bedroom and smashed the egg over my father’s head. That stopped the waitress talk fast. He hung up the phone and with the egg white and yolk running down his big red face with its big nose just laughed – guffawed.
I was enraged!
My mom served him his steak dinner.
Back to when I was little … .My father never ate steak dinner with us kids then, even though we were at our most loveable. At Lamartine Street School filled with stories about the Easter Bunny or trips to the science museum or who is the fastest runner in gym class. My father was interested in none of that. If we got started, he’d say, “that’s nice” and walk away absent mindedly. What was outside our flat was of much more interest to him. He was a man of the road, a man of the fast, secretive screw, a man of the woods. Once he came home with a Maxwell House Coffee can filled with dirt – and a lovely pink lady slipper he had found in the woods. He was smitten by the flower, had not picked it for my mother – or us kids. He took it, roots and dirt and all. For replanting? Where? We had no garden in Green Island. When he was growing up, my Italian grandmother, like all Italian families, had a huge garden, a garden with tomatoes and squash and even grapes that grew on a trellis. Daddy was stuck with us and lady slippers in Mazwell House Coffee cans.
And that day, the steak dinner came, too. The plant stayed on the porch, where it wilted and died. My mom, so overwhelmed with rasing the family and work and caring for our dog or cats, was not about to start rescuing plants. Down the lady slipper sank.
My Bapy, my Polish grandmother, knew the score – and like me, hated steak dinners. She hated having my father in our Green Island apartment that she helped pay for with her money and that my father, being on his own weird trajectory, refused to make any financial committment to. To see my mom beg for her $35 a week’s “allowance” from my father – for us kids, food, utility bills, rent was an exercise in learning to grow small, small in stature, small in feelings, small … pointless.
My Bapy, though 4 feet 10 inches high, was not small. She was TALL around our flat, the titular head of the family. No fool, she declared to everyone in broken English that my father was a “red devil.” Sometimes daddy would egg her on and she would throw part of her egg sandwich at him. To no avail. My mom still made my father his steak dinners. Bapy knew my mother – her youngest and favorite daughter – had fallen in love with a loser who had charmed his way into her bed and heart, only to ruin her life. He couldn’t hold a job. He couldn’t suopport or even contribute money to the family. He did nothing around the house. He had a car – a shiny blue muscle car with sparkes in the paint (car manufacturers used to put teeny metal flakes in car paint years ago to make them sparkle!). So when he drove up to the three decker you were dazzled. But my mom and me and my two sisters never got to ride in it. We walked every where and when the walk was too far, we took cabs. And when the walk was very far, my Aunt Mary (my mom’s siter) had her husband, my sweet Uncle Mark, take my mom and us three kids to where we needed to go – like the pediatrician’s office for vaccines and check ups.
My mother had fallen for my father after he asked her to go riding in whatever muscle car he owned back then – World War II. My mom was engaged to a sweet Polish kid who was off fighting in Europe, and my father drove up to her told her she had a beautiful smile and asked her if she wanted to go for a ride in his car. She did. And that was it for her. Fiance was dumped, broken hearted. A quick wedding in city hall and three kids in a cold water flat in the ghetto.
Not for him. So he jumped into his muscle car and drove out of our lives for the first four or so years of my life. He would appear occassonally, white leather cap on head, chomping a big cigar … frightening me and my sisters with his red, enraged face – the face he showed my sweet mother.
SLAP! went the back of his hand against her pretty face. I saw the marks when it came off. My mother didn’t cry. She never cried.Maybe once or twice during my childhood. If that. Later, when I was an adult and in college, she said she spent many long sleepless nights in bed just rolling over all the problems in her head and trying to solve them. No time for tears.
Still, in my youth, my mother kept making my father his STEAK dinners. Remember: it was the early 1970s and meat was still king and it was expensive for families like ours. Rich people had steak, not poor people like us. My mom – who made minimum wage salary – used to spend a lot of her hard earned money to prepare steak dinner for my father. I remember how the steak oozed a watery kind of blood, as he quietly and expertly carved up his meal (I would poke my head into the bedroom to watch for a second or two).
Friday night – Daddy’s steak night, a reward for a week’s worth of his daddying! A week of yelling, a week of name calling, a week of neglect of spouse and children, a week of taunting my tired old granny, who at one point during one argument had come after daddy with a very long carving knife, steak knives be damned! A week of daddy’s hot temper, a week of emotional out bursts and maybe a slap or two at my mom – her butt if he was being amorous. As he grew older, the butt taps came more frequently.
Was it all the steak dinners she had served – SERVED – him, like a slave?
As I watched her prepare his feast – a feast which my sisters and she did not partake in – I felt the unfairness of the situation.
And yet there stood my mom, every Friday night, sweaty from standing so close to the old – but very good – gas stove, hunch-backed from years of hard labor (she was in her 40s by now and she began working as a maid when she was 14), being ever so careful to cook the most beautiful steak for my father.
He loved spinach with his steak. So out would come the can of the Jolly Green Giant spinach. My mom would open the can with her hand held can opener, not the kind most folks use but the primitive kind you sometimes saw in the old John Wayne movies. I watched her and admired her strong bare arms and how the big purple veins in ther large hands bulged as she expertly opened the can. Never a slip up, never a cut, usually the can opened with one go-around. My mom! The human can opener! Did my father see her as something more?
Then she poured the spinach into a pan, heated up over a low gas flame, and after it was hot, my mom put a pad of butter in it and mixed it all up. Heaven! I loved spinach! Sometimes we kids would get the left over spinach. My father never ate the entire can’s worth. Then salad. My mom would make him his salad. Remember: it was the 1970s. No one was really into fiber and fruits then, except hippies and Italians who had grown up with huge vegetable gardens like my father. No one knew iceburg lettucke was pointless (vitamin less) back then and romaine was the qway to go. Neither did my father. So my mom pulled apart the light green round ice burg lettuce head, cut some pale looking red tomatoes she had bought in a package at Supreme Market on Millbury Street, cut a cucumber which my father always wanted perfectly peeled and then she would take some oil pour it in a saucer and add: garlic salt and pepper.
When steak was done (perfectly, after she had brushed it with some of the salad oil she made for my father), she would put it on top of stove with warm spinach. His salad stayed frosty in the refiregerator. Then I would watch my mom cut this huge piece of steak of the T Bone for my dad, lay the huge slab of meat on a huge dinner plate and then put spinach around it and then in a separate bowl place my father’s salad in it – ever so gently. Then I watched her take that delicious steak dinner and carry it to their bedroom where my father would grumble (I never once heard him say “thank you” to her) and fold up the paper he was reading (I could hear that he had mussed up the paper, thrown it to the floor) and begin to eat.
After he ate, he would grab a plum or peach out of the refrigerator and say: Gotta go! and head out the door. When he got older he fell asleep after the heavy meal. But when he was younger he wanted to walk off that heavy feeling. So he did. He would return late at night when we were all in bed, a mystery.
I am amazed whenever I see kids and parents sitting around a table eating supper together, chatting about their day, like I do when I visit my friend on Cape Ann, my gal pal who has a husband and children. In some weird way, I find the whole scene … noisy, too busy … annoying. It all seems so … tedious. The adults asking the kids silly, childish questions, the kids hogging (basking in!) the spotlight and giving answers that are way too long. I kinda want to edit them or … just get up and leave the table! Grab a plum or peach out of the refrigerator and hop into my car with my Husky dog Jett and go for a long ride, with just the moonlight twinkling off the ocean.
There is something to be said for being alone with your pain.