Thursday, June 18, 2015

Spaghetti Toast (Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge)

Growing up in a house full of younger siblings gave me a useful perspective on the value of family routines. Sometimes called "family jokes" or more formally, "in-group rituals", these are the touchstones of behavior that collectively signal "we belong together." 

On a larger scale, such routines pin communities together, and help to bar outsiders from the full life of the group. Think of the complex gestures and genuflections that dot the Catholic Mass. Watch a couple of homies greet each other on the street: no narc can hope to imitate the precise body and verbal language to achieve that street cred. Observe the stylized way in which a formal dinner is served and eaten. In-group and out-group are both identified by these behaviors.

Many children's rhymes may have started as this same kind of validating routine: I belong here. Kids pick them up so easily, remember them all their lives. My ten younger brothers and sisters and I had one that was singular to our family. Every summer, my Dad would pump up the enormous inner-tube he stored in the garage, and drop it in the front yard for bouncing games. The eleven of us had a Macarena-like complex series of knee-drops and sits, belly-flops and hand-claps that I could probably repeat today, fifty-plus years later.

All the while we chanted: Ah-SOO-dumm bahk-ah-wah-dee-onn, KEH-d'm kehdee. Ahh! Ahh! Ahh! Ahh! AH-soo-dumm bahk-ah-WAH-dee-onn, kehd'm kehdee. It was an African round we older kids had learned years before at summer camp, or possibly at the nuns' Summer Catechism School. As other non-family kids came by and wanted to join in, we would drop the ritual song and bounce pattern, welcoming them to the game without quite letting them in on the secret.

Thinking of this, and prompted by the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge this week,

June 17, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves a children’s game or rhyme. You can create something new or go with something traditional. You can write with a twist, humor, menace or glee. Hop, skip or jump wherever the prompt leads you.

I remembered another ritual that occurred whenever my Dad made Spaghetti sauce. Dad's sauce was a complex brew containing meat, tomatoes, green olives with pimiento, and a generous dollop of Chianti. My parents had their serving of spaghetti—sauce liberally topped with Parmesan cheese—with a side of Chianti as well. For us kids, it was grape juice in place of wine.


Spaghetti Toast

The once-full platter of spaghetti, glistening strands coated and over-topped with Dad's wonderful sauce, lay abandoned in the middle of the table as we said grace. 

The bottle of juice passed, and each of us had a full plate and glass in front of us. The Parmesan cheese shaker went around the table, and we sprinkled our spaghetti with that pungent dust.

Mom and Dad began eating, but we youngsters waited to begin. First, we must toast. We raised our baby-wine together three times.

To the King!
To the Queen!
To the stinky-feet Cheese!

Only then would we eat.