It may surprise some that know me today to learn that as a kid, pasta with sauce (or gravy) was one of my least favorite foods. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t stand the sight of it. Now that can be a problem growing up in an Italian family, and indeed it was. Mom was very understanding and would make me something else when spaghetti was on the menu, as it was every Sunday night –one of Dad’s favorites. To this day I don’t know what it was that gave me that reaction because today I consume quite a bit of pasta of all kinds and usually go back for seconds. A good plate of linguine with clam sauce, a loaf of crusty bread, a salad and a glass of wine is one of the all-time best meals I could think of having. But as a kid, no way.
I remember one-time Aunt Mildred and Uncle San treated our family to a meal out at Monte’s, a classic red sauce restaurant in the Village. I think it is still there and is probably still packing the crowds in. Well, of course, everyone at the table ordered some form of pasta with sauce; I think Mom ordered me a chicken cutlet, plain and some bread. I spent the whole time avoiding looking at anyone around the table, and especially at their plates. At one point I remember slipping from my chair to the carpeted floor, just to avoid those sights. Of course, as you can imagine, that was not allowed and within moments Dad’s strong hand had grabbed me by my collar and hauled me effortlessly back into my seat. Aunt Mildred and Uncle San must have regretted ever asking the “whole” family out for Italian that night.
I don’t know how long this aversion lasted but one day it simply disappeared, though not without a fight. It was in Jersey when we were visiting the bungalow in Hopatcong, and we had stopped at a pizzeria/restaurant on a Saturday night after a long day of working around the house – well after a long day of Dad working around the house. I am sure my brother and I spent the day playing whiffle ball and running around like the nutty kids we were. But that night at the restaurant as I sipped a Yoohoo (a pre-made chocolate milk very popular with kids at the time), Mom suggested I give her spaghetti a try. Clearly, she (and I am sure Dad) wanted me to get over this allergy or whatever it was and make their lives a whole lot easier. And for some reason, I did try it, and it was good. I mean really really good.
Now anyone who has had children knows what happens when a kid discovers he or she really likes something. They go nuts for it, eat it like it won’t be available on the planet the next day. So, of course, I continued to eat Mom’s spaghetti, the whole time tossing back Yoo-Hoo after Yoo-Hoo. I think Mom and Dad were so surprised and happy that their kid finally learned he was Italian that they indulged me a bit too much that night. I think some pizza made it down the hatch as well; I was on a tear man, I mean I was making up for lost years of eating red sauce.
Now, take a moment. Think about it. I am sure the best Italian cooks in the world, or even the mediocre ones would not recommend the pairing of spaghetti and red sauce and chocolate milk. A nice Chianti maybe, a Burgundy for sure, but Yoo-Hoo?? No, no….not Yoo-Hoo.
And they would be right.
Unbeknownst to me or the family, the stomach Gods were in turmoil trying to reconcile the combination of sauce and chocolate milk, and let me tell you, they were not winning.
We got back to the house, and shortly thereafter Don and I were sent to bed, me with a more than a full stomach, though not for long. Mom kissed us goodnight and tucked us in, leaving the bedroom door ajar so the light from the living room made a soft glow through the crack it made. Don innocently went to sleep, not realizing the volcano that was to erupt in the darkness. The bed was comfortable as always, and soon I drifted off to sleep.
The next thing I knew Don was running around the room screaming, Mom and Dad were scrambling to get in, and I was doing my imitation of Reagan in the Exorcist, only it wasn’t pea-soup that I was spewing all around the room like some deranged water hose, it was a curious mixture of chocolate milk and tomato sauce and it was alive.
I don’t think I ever threw up like that in my life. Even in later years, when it was too much alcohol that made me ill, there was never anything like the geyser that was my gaping mouth that night. Long after my bedding was soaked and stinking, long after Don had run to the front porch putting as much distance between him and I as was possible, long after Dad stood there dodging the first streams of vomit that splattered the walls around him, it continued. I mean this was projectile vomit; I was hitting the other side of the room. And I was possessed, a feeble puppet helpless against the stomach Gods as they rebelled against my eating choices.
Eventually, of course, it subsided. I sat up, stunned, not sure of what had happened. I looked around me at the now brightly lit room, at Dad, mouth still agape in a terrible awe, at Mom doing her best to mop up the room, and then it hit me…..the smell. And I wanted to be sick all over again. Mom ran to the bathroom, grabbed the small garbage pail, and ran back throwing it back to the side of the bed, so I could lean over and heave again, though now there was nothing left to give.
I lay back on the pillow, the only part of the bed still dry, sweating and bewildered.
And Mom said simply: “That’s it young man, no more Yoo-Hoo and spaghetti for you!”
I looked at her with incredulity….you are damned right….no more Yoo-Hoo and spaghetti.
And to this day, though I continue to enjoy spaghetti and red sauce, I have never had another Yoo-Hoo or any chocolate milk of any kind. I don’t think they even make it anymore, but I remember years later seeing a photo of a bottle of it in a magazine article about the foods of yesteryear. I stared at it and from across the table, Les asked: “Are you ok? You look a little sick”.
“Yea, I’m ok “ I answered, “ just remembering a night a long time ago”. She glanced at the photo, shook her head and muttered: “I am not even going to ask”.
“Yea” I answered again “Don’t….you don’t want to know”.