Set the table, your Father will be home soon." The Mom's words announced eventide, like the bells for Vesper Services that would momentarily ring from the churchtower of St Joseph's. Respondet ipsum the Babe, dragging himself from his novel, "What's there to eat tonight?" "Plenty," says the Mom if she is impatient. Otherwise she will be specific. Typically she would ladle out a soup, present a platter of victuals, and extend a dessert, plus bread, butter, savories and milk.
Each had to be substantial or else, in their eyes, it would not be "real food." The soup could not be clear. It had to contain a pastina, floating vegetables, and/or meat. Sometimes the cooked vegetable was spinach, escarole, or string beans. The plate had to have meat and potatoes, plus a vegetable or two, like peas, cabbage, string beans, creamed corn, asparagus, turnips, carrots or spinach, to be buttered beforehand or in the dish. Corn on the cob deserves special mention for making the ordinary board festive; they raced their chomping teeth up and down the ears of corn as if they were playing a mouth-organ.
The meat might be a meat-loaf, a boeuf bourguignon crossing over into an Irish stew, a freshly killed chicken, pork chops, a lamb, pork or beef roast, or liver and kidneys. The dessert could be a fruit pie, bursting with apples, cherries or plums, but perhaps there might be instead a lemon meringue or chocolate cream pie, a rice or jello pudding with cream, a cooked fruit compote with whipped cream, or on occasion ice cream or chocolate cake, optimally both together. Citrus fruit came from California; the rest of the fresh fruit was from the region around. Canned pineapple was common, the fresh a signal event. Nuts came from around and from the tropics. "That's a lallapalooza!" the Mom would say when a huge dark-green watermelon was being carried in from the peddler's wagon below. The parents drank water at the meal, and coffee afterwards, as the kids dispersed to their nooks.
There was enough milk flowing in the house to exercise literally and often the adage, "There is no use crying over spilt milk." "Bring in the milk," the Babe was told and he unlatched the door, swung it heavily open, and brought in the eternally surprising cool and filled bottles. In winter, even in the hallway (and certainly on the outside window sill when the icebox was stuffed full) a milk bottle would frostily stick out a two-inch tongue of iced cream, which was both amazing and fun to lick. "There's nothing like milk," they said, and congratulated themselves because everywhere else in the world it was supposed to be unclean, tubercular, straw-logged, sourish, watery, unsmooth, slopped in pots, costly, and insufficient. "A quart of milk a day" went along with "An apple a day keeps the doctor away," as against, "Oh, well, you'll be eating a peck of dirt in your life," when the inside of a lettuce revealed a speck.
There came then cream for the berries, in coffee and tea, on pies and cakes -- ordinary cream or whipped cream, thick or double-thick and standing like a tower. Plus ice cream, usually Hydrox, "the best," of which usually the brick of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry would be chosen to conclude syncretistically the debate over flavor.
The cream that rose to the top of the standing bottle between five and seven A.M. was used for the parents' coffee. Otherwise it was "Shake the milk before you pour it," and one of the Babe's small responsible hands would grip the card-board plugged neck, and the other the fat bottle-bottom, and he shook as hard as he dared. It could spill. "See what you did now? Made a mess. Here, wipe it up," handing over a rag fetched from behind the skirt of cloth that covered modestly the sink's bottom tubes, which rag, being of 100% cotton from a tattered shirt or towel, absorbed easily the milk and left the oil cloth of the table shiny. Nor did he mind wringing out the cloth in the sink.
When wine was spilled -- rarely, if only because it was drunk mainly on a holiday or with a sophisticated visitor or European type or when the Dad was presented with a bottle and wished to taste it to reckon the applause deserved -- then one said, "Spilled wine brings good luck," and someone might even shake a bit of salt over his shoulder, even more good luck. Luck, but for whom? The Babe wondered. For the spiller? Then he could not qualify because he never poured. "For everybody at the table," he was reassured. He was not denied his sip of wine ever, but found it bleak-tasting, much inferior to "real" grape-juice, or to milk.
Sooner or later, every considerable American, Italian, German, French and English dish made an appearance. Yet pizza, hot tamales, curries, and hominy grits were rare. The Mom was continually experimenting, with the self-critical faculty of a proper scientist and a desire to please her intensely involved clientele. In her own way, without fanfare, she made a culinary contribution to Chicago culture, along with her friends Anna, Lottie, Mamie, Julia, and the others who, rid of men and boys, met weekly at a different home, there to whomp up fantastic and instructive dishes, never imagining their Friday Afternoon Club to be a generative and progressive force in a major field of human creativity. But so they were, and American cooking and taste improved continuously over the years by virtue of their efforts. Who else could do it? Who else did it? A Stork Club, a Zeder's, a Luchow's, a Delmonico's? These were powerless relative to the massed effect of Momish Experimentation, Momish Recipe Exchange, and Momish Indoctrination of the New Generations by example.
The records reveal, for instance, a Depression cheese-cake, attributable to Lottie, Aunt Anna's sister:
2 cups of graham crackers
1/4 pound of oleomargarine
1 8-ounce package Philadelphia cream-cheese
1/2 cup of sugar
1 package of lemon jello
1 large can evaporated milk
Pour a cup of boiling water upon the lemon jello and let
cool to room temperature. Whip canned milk, add jello and
beat again. Mix sugar with cheese, beat it and add to the
mixture, whipping it again. Crumble the crackers and blend
with oleo. Line the bottom of an 8 inch pan with the graham
blend, pour the filling on top, and cover the top with the
other half of the graham. Refrigerate overnight. Will be
fresh for a week.
cost = 8 cents per serving.
I chose the example, disregarding haute cuisine, of which there was aplenty, and recognizing the then typical ignorance of dietary science, to show the women's constructive response to economic deprivation in the kitchen. Here were the new Fannie Farmers, The White House cookbook revisionists, the creators of a better life, come depression or prosperity, work done without pay, or orders, or public acclaim. Were they victim of machoism, fools of anti- feminists? How they stinted! Is incompetence in the kitchen a symbol of liberty?
In unwitting support of them, the Dad would often interfere in the kitchen or take over in an effort to show that he had some capacity as chef, concocting expressions of his tastes that others were not eager to enjoy, despite the fanfare with which they were served. One day in 1927, he brought home a mess of minnows, which he smashed to smithereens and pressed into patty-cakes for frying in oil. The execrable effects were sneaked into the garbage amidst complimentary murmurs. He was, however, a champion at cleaning the dandelion he collected.
Desserts were common and it was the age of bleached white flour, refined sugar, polished rice, and other insults to dietetics. Still Lottie's cheesecake did not come upon the table more than twice in the year and the Mom was much occupied with the search for fresh foods in preference to the processed. In this she was urged on by her husband, who also held a stern view of sweets that she could never share.
Once impressed by the dominating Dad, she was reliable. Did she not regularly and strictly send them across the Park to where an "Infant Welfare Office" had been set up, there to procure for 25 cents a large bottle of cod liver oil, a tablespoon of which went down their constricted throats every day?
The Mom put up preserves of tomatoes and peaches when a bushel of them could be bought in season for under a dollar. It would strike her upon occasion to preserve string-beans, peas, peppers, gherkins, and just about anything else in good supply provided that the Mason jars and caps were available. Vats full of jars boiled steaming on the stove. The boys were impressed into service then, not only for regular mashing and peeling du jour, but to destring the beans, depod the peas, peel and destone the peaches, cut up the tomatoes, and stir, stir; no one was exempted from turning the wooden ladle in the turgid vortex of the large pot. Any box of fruit that happened along, from grapes to rhubarb, might find itself staring out of glass jars in short order. All the while there would be these disgruntled toiling dwarves held by suction in the wake of Kate's inertial force, consoled by the prospective satisfaction of appetite. They had to be watched: in whipping a cream or stirring hot chocolate, the substance might fall prey to the operation.
As with much else, the labors of Mother's helpers began in infant play.
Bake me a cake
As fast as you can
Roll it, and knead it,
And mark it with a "B".
Then put it in the oven
For Baby and me!
All chanted with appropriate gestures. There were miniature pie- pans, that would be lined with the left-over dough, then filled with fruit or cream, and baked especially for the "little tots."
"The way to a man's heart is through his stomach," quoted the Mom and with the Babe this meant Chinese chop suey a la Caterina. Ladled upon hillsides of boiled rice, went slopping down the thick sauce concocted of beef and pork morsels, chopped celery, bamboo shoots and soy sauce with molasses. He gobbled it up with loud praises for the chef.
Pasta was offered him frequently. His favorite was not so much spaghetti a la Bolognese as spaghetti with meatballs, made up of ground beef, onions, oregano and basil, its sauce composed of peeled whole tomatoes (preferred to fresh tomatoes), onions, garlic, and tomato paste.
Many kinds of pasta were to be found: the little store around the corner and down the street had a large counter holding a score of drawers through whose glass windows you could see the individual type you might want. Three forms were preferred: the straight number 10 spaghetti, which was thin enough for the young gullet, the curly long lasagna, which was pretty, and the large hollow tubatelli that were sucked up noisily. He was not much interested in the more fancy pasta dishes like ziti, gnocchi, and even not ravioli, although he had to grant a special quality to the ravioli after observing his Mother spend an afternoon before a holiday constructing them. Twirling spaghetti around a fork neatly was practiced early; it was not to be cut, nor were "shwooping" noises to be heard.
If pasta were to be served, potatoes were not, and vice-versa. The potatoes emerged most popularly as mashed with cream, next in potato salad, then home-fried with onions, then boiled (if new) and with soup meat (flanken), french fried potatoes and roasted potatoes last. Fresh tomato and lettuce salads were de rigueur with a pasta meal, otherwise only common. The lettuce was the mild tasteless head-lettuce that the boys snapped up, or the reluctantly ingested Romaine lettuce, or the disliked curly bitter escarole, always with an Italian dressing of olive oil and wine vinegar, with chopped garlic on the occasions when the Dad insisted upon gourmet standards.
Fridays were for fish, at least at dinner (which was called supper, dinner being what one ate in the afternoons of Sundays and holidays; did Jesus eat dinner on the day of Last Supper?). There were no connotations of religion in the fish of Friday. "It's just a custom," he was told; he knew that "fasting" could not be involved. He had no idea of fasting as a moral statement; it was a superstition. The boys preferred Louisiana prawns, halibut, salmon, swordfish, and tuna, and were cool toward the common perch and all others that had small bones; they disliked salted fish and smoked fish. Strangely they liked snails, perhaps because to draw a snail from its shell with a pin was something like fishing itself.
Lunches taken at home were usually of soups and sandwiches, with boiled frankfurters, liverwurst, ham, swiss cheese, peanut butter and jelly, potato salad, milk or malted milk-shakes, cold fruit drinks in the summer, hot cocoa in the winter. Campbell's canned pork and beans, vegetable, and cream soups were always in stock for quick action. At the least cookies, sometimes cake, with canned fruit (preferably Del Monte's), composed the dessert. (With the Depression appeared strange brands of canned food at bargain prices, owing to farm "overproduction" and consumer poverty.)
The Dad would eat out nowhere except at a friend's home; the boys would eat out anywhere. They preferred to buy food when away at lunchtime, rather than to carry thick sandwiches (indelicate, they thought) and cookies and to buy a small bottle of milk or skimmed milk by the cup or chocolate milk (the favorite). They were advised not to consider soda pop as part of any meal. Several times of a springtime, while at Junior High School, the Babe would trot home for a surprise lunch just to sicken himself with the thick perfumed breath of the warm breezes along the midday streets voided of boys and girls. It was like being home in bed with the chicken-pox, only he felt super-well and free.
What they bought at school cafeterias was corned beef hash, watery stew, or pork and beans, no vegetables, no salads. At camps and schools, where free market forces were absent, watery potato and cabbage soup; watery mashed potatoes; string beans; creamed corn, carrots and peas -- all these from a can -- were pandemic, limp pasty pies too, and dead dry sugary cakes. It was the era before fast-food chains. Italian "submarines" or "hero" sandwiches were available at grocery stores near the schools, along with other sandwiches of sliced sausage fixed with the sliced white bread of the times, all the more vile, we would say, for having no injections of vitamins and minerals.
Coke was not as popular as soda pops, which were bottled in vast quantities by various small firms. They contained fruit flavorings, sodium, sugar, and water, nothing of nutritional value. Once Tony Franco in Eighth Grade stole a case of pop from a truck and sold it behind the school at bargain prices; it was an impressive crime and the Babe pictured Tony spending years behind the bars in consequence.
Fruit juices came only in larger cans, and were favored by diminutive clientele. The hot-dog was king of luncheon meats, absent the German, Hungarian, Italian, and Polish sausages; these were kept in the background. Hamburgers were next best.
Little houses were put up to resemble and be called "White Castles," which sold neat little burgers, no more than a couple of bites, a "big gyp," opined the boys.
Bro Bus and Babe, at Waller High School, were given twenty cents a day by the Dad for carfare and lunch. Their six cents of carfare could be saved by walking the three miles, well worth it in good weather, thought the Babe. He found a grocery store near Waller that made for a nickel a large greasy hamburger laced with bread-crumbs, which he could drench with catsup and piccalilli. It was, he felt sure, the world's greatest hamburger bargain. He would also buy a huge chocolate and peanut bar, Mr. Goodbar, for another nickel. This was pit-Depression fodder. He could come home often with a saved dime, which he put into a small pretty metal tea box before fixing a large snack. These and other deposits summed up in time to a total of over seventeen dollars that he transferred from Hill Street to Southport Avenue when they moved.
After he displayed the treasury in careless pride to a youth much older, named Patsy, who was taking free clarinet lessons from the Dad, the money disappeared from the can, but Patsy denied angrily the Babe's contention that he must have taken it. No one was told of the theft. Earlier Patsy had gotten into real trouble with the Police, from which the Dad had rescued him, and (to steal a page from the future) he ultimately reached a position of fiscal eminence at Montgomery Ward's retail empire, while his good brother became an Air Force pilot. Their mother was a sweet old-fashioned Italian lady who worked diligently as a seamstress when she could find work, a type of character that the Dad revered; their father was a chronically unemployed, brutal, heavyset character with small brown eyes and a sneer, who would walk up and down Sedgwick Street, upright and stiff, as espied by the Babe from his perch in the bay window, and the Dad called him mockingly "U Barone," using Sicilian words to heighten the sarcasm.
The cuisine altered, but not dramatically, on festive days; there was no holiday without some gastronomic accoutrement. Sunday usually conveyed a roast chicken, freshly killed and often plucked at home. On Easter Day there would be a great ham, pre-smoked and baked. Or else there would be a roast leg of lamb. Thanksgiving Day was for gourmandizing, and turkeys weighing in at seventeen pounds were typical, with all this augured for menus of the week following. The large, wooden, tin-insulated ice box was then chock full of foods, so that the Babe might engage himself happily in chipping off the ice with an ice pick to make more room for food.
Yams, cranberries, mince pies, pumpkin pies, squashes, turnips, and mounds of turkey dressing all accumulated alongside the great bird in a gathering challenge to the hysterically mobilizing appetite. When the Mom really got going, she chipped in a large platter of homemade ravioli in tomato sauce to get the feast underway. Bricks of ice-cream lay in wait in the icebox and cartons of chocolates teetered on the mantlepiece. Never mind the breads, the cookies, the gallon of milk, the whipped cream readied and waiting atop the ice to cover the pumpkin pie and chocolate or lemon cake.
(I note now, sixty years later, what Christopher Idone says might go into a traditional American Thanksgiving Dinner Feast, in his book Glorious American Food. He suggests a scallop stew, which I think I and some others would prefer to the ravioli first dish. But have you ever noted the resemblance between a boiled ravioli and a scallop? He has oyster stuffing for the turkey, whereas the Mom would have a giblet stuffing. He has called for a kumquat preserve as well as cranberries; the Babe never ate a kumquat; nor did anyone else in the 1920's; but I think this tropical Asian fruit should go very well with turkey. Cranberries were there, of course, both whole and jellied. He also asks for a nut conserve which would qualify, indeed, concede honors to, the purée of chestnut from Hill Street. He has a fancier green salad, adding hazelnut crumbs, with the same dressing, a vinaigrette. Instead of his Maytag Blue Cheese, there was a Gorgonzola (a superior cheese, in my judgement), and where he advises cheddar and jack cheese as well, there was then offered an orange-colored American cheese, that could be called a mild- cheddar. Instead of Idone's recommended pumpkin mousse with crystallized ginger, the Mom had a mousse-like pumpkin in a pie- shell with a whipped cream topping. He also recommends mincemeat, whereas the Babe labored (by then!) at ingesting a mince pie with a hard rum sauce. Coffee followed.
Idone forgets the milk, writing for adults. He leaves out the chocolates, and the ice-cream, and prescribes vintage wines difficult to find today, even in the small percentage of homes where wine is imbibed, and of course the Old Days were during Prohibition. Not that the Dad had to abstain from his pre-prandial whiskey, and a glass of somebody's wine during the meal.
The menus are thus generally the same, for we have the turkey with pan gravy, creamed onions, rutabagas, apple sauce, and mashed potatoes, to which would be added yams on Hill Street.)
Then, about four-thirty, the groans of surfeiture arose, mingled with a few apologetic exclamations about "thinking of the poor people in the world who had none of this," until dusk fell with a shower of mixed nuts cracked noisily, and outside the windows the weather could be anything in Chicago on this day, a blustery snowfall, an icy rain, or even something called Indian Summer when they could struggle out afterwards into the streets and the park to work off their binge, crying "I'm bursting. I can't eat another thing! I'll never eat again!"
Somewhere in the flat would be the day's Chicago Tribune with a colored cartoon by McCutcheon on the front page commemorating Thanksgiving with the myth of the Pilgrim Fathers while on the second page would begin the plethora of advertisements of Holiday Sales in the stores. "We have lots to be thankful for," Midwesterners were in the habit of saying, sanctimoniously, meaning that they were healthier than they might be, had more money than they might have had, had left the Old Country's wars and hunger behind, were back on the farm for merely the week-end, or didn't have to go to work that day. Yes, it was better to be where they were, practically everyone agreed, than where they might be, wherever they thought they might have been. The smart rich ate less and drank more booze, and thought about entraining by Pullman Sleeper for Florida, where everything was booming and blooming.
Then Christmas came, or rather that horrific holiday season that began on Thanksgiving and ended with New Year's day. Horrific? To whom? The dead and maimed on the highways? The drunkards? All the families and friends of these? The distraught and driven housewives? The anxious hordes of travellers? The socially over- strained, the socially deprived? Yes, yes. The merchants and storekeepers, the fools who grabbed what they could get in a month and lolled about the rest of the year? Maybe. The devout Christians and the morose Jews, who watched the orgiastic scenes preceding the birth of the God and the death of Time? Partly. The men who get heart-attacks, commit suicide, and go crazy, as portrayed in actuarial statistics? Yes. The entertainers? No. Cynical and depressed and foresightful children? Yes. The De Grazia brothers? No!
Convalescing from the Thanksgiving feast, the Babe read the Montgomery Ward Catalog and began to day-dream about what he wanted, "needed" for Christmas. His conversations veered toward the Great Morning and induced the same obsessed malignancy in others not so sensitive to the social calendar. He knew exactly how many days there were until Christmas. He read the ads. He window- shopped. He expected to be conducted to Santa Claus, one or more, wherever they might be located. He was displeased with the Salvation Army types of Old Nick; they were not comfortably ensconced on a sleigh amid stuffed reindeer. But, with the Mom listening in to what he confessed to wishing for, the setting of a top department store was perfect; there was a sacred something in Santa's assurances that, like the public and binding oaths of the primitive Saxons, she might abjure only at her peril.
The bug of Christmas cards bit the folks, and a month before the Holiday the Mom purchased a suitable collection of them, most tending to the Holy Family and another big batch to "Heigh-ho Santa!" Cards from last year supplemented the new purchase; they had probably been bought at a bargain price during the last week of the previous year. The Dad, like the Babe, preferred winter scenes in the country, with sleighs, smoking chimneys, and snow drifts covering wooden fences and half the house.
The Dad addressed scores of cards, for he had the fine handwriting. The Mom kept count. The Babe affixed postage stamps and the Christmas seals of the Tuberculosis Foundation, to whose appeal the Dad responded each year. The Babe was rather advanced in age, perhaps ten, before he understood how the Foundation could afford to send Seals to people who did not request them and might therefore keep them, use them, or throw them away, and the reason for his perplexity may have been that he thought postage stamps cost a good deal of money to print.
The mailbox was loaded with cards, whose correlation with sender and receiver the Babe could rarely discern. A couple of days before Christmas there would arrive cordial greetings from people who had been overlooked, and last minute cards were rushed out "so they wouldn't feel bad." The Babe pointed out that such cards, arriving after Christmas, would be suspect. "I know," said the Mom, "but still..."
When the Christmas tree was purchased, the Babe was right on hand to help carry it home. This allowed also a rare taxicab ride. Like the Thanksgiving turkey, the Christmas tree had to be super- sized, to match his inordinate claims; preferably its top and bottom should require pruning to prove that it could not possibly be any taller. White sheets were crumpled beneath it to look like snow on the dark oak floor and a cranky metal stand was screechingly screwed into the base of the tree to hold it straight up.
Then the Mom fetched the ornaments, trimmings, gear, tangled mass of light cords, figurines, creche display, and contributed new batches of ornaments to replace or supplement those of the year before, and boxes of fresh colored bulbs were broken open, some of them in oddly worked forms of chalets, reindeer, and the sainted Claus himself. Fresh candy sticks and chocolate mini-bars were scattered evenly about. Finally a batch of artificial snowflakes was spilled over the whole setting. The ever-growing miniature railroad system might then be brought out and set up so as to circumnavigate the area of the tree. The mesh stockings that were filled with small items and candies were withheld until the depths of the night at which time the parents hung them from the mantelpiece beneath which the asbestos alight with burning gas hissed calmly and continuously.
Before dawn, he was up peeking. Years later he got up with the others. The idea of sleeping late on Christmas day would always seem blasphemous. Breakfast was likely to be large, diversified and unassembled, with everyone preparing this and that and getting in the way of the Mom, who was hoping that her mother's helper, Lorraine, could escape from home early, and of course there were presents for Lorraine and she had more fun than anyone, examining everything and playing with the boys while picking up the litter and sweeping away the broken ornaments.
Christmas dinner, in mid-afternoon, featured a standing rib-roast of beef, a lamb roast, or a roast goose. With this went the procession of much the same foods as at Thanksgiving, also candied fruitcakes as hard as stone, luscious with fats, nuts, raisins and spices. There was altogether too much candy, everyone had to admit, although the youngest, Victor, never cried quits with food and he grew and grew until they annoyed and bored him and each other telling him to stop eating so much.
By comparison with the gluttony and garishness of Christmas, other anniversaries seemed underdeveloped or even dull. The Babe's birthday, following so close upon Christmas, occasioned a couple of gifts, and a cake with candles to blow out upon the climax of a luncheon. The presence of Howard, Dorothy, Cassie, and one or two others - the names do not matter much -- hardly rescued the occasion, especially after attendance at school had introduced him into more exciting and larger circles. The trip to the movies afterwards was welcome, however.
The idea that everybody is thrilled by the celebration of their birthday is one more myth to be dispelled. The Babe was not alone in accepting a celebration of "Your Birthday!" with a grimace, irritably. The world is divided into those people who are trained to celebrate happily anniversaries, and those untrained who would pass them by.
Other family birthdays met with varying degrees of indifference. The Dad refused to celebrate or even recognize his birth date, except to say that he was born on Thanksgiving Day, an unlikely event inasmuch as the holiday was unattached to a specific calendar date. Still it was convenient. The Mom's birthday, actually the Thirteenth of January, was celebrated for half her life a week late until an inquiry at City Hall, relating to her social security registration, revealed the error.
Perhaps because she was the lone female of the household, her birthday brought her candy and flowers, which the Dad and the boys might separately buy, and, when the Dad came home, they would have him take forth his clarinet while the Babe got out his violin, and with Bro Bus at the piano, they would render their favorite song of jesting love and then sing along loudly and rudely to the piano:
You're the only girl that I adore.
When the moon shines,
Over the cow shed,
I'll be waiting, at the
Her wedding anniversary in October was celebrated in much the same way, as if it were not so grand a day for the Dad. On St. Joseph's Day mysterious batches of spiced cookies baked in the traditional Sicilian shapes by somebody out there found their way onto the breakfast table and into a self-service platter for snackers.
New Year's Eve was noteworthy for the card games and board games that were played after dinner, and for the license it conveyed to stay up until midnight, at which time whoever were present, never the Dad, ate pickled herring, potato salad alongside. New Year's Day was quiet. No one had a hangover, but the musician, then musicians, of the family had been at their work until three in the morning. They heard the Mom say, when they came together, "Remember, what you do on New Year's Day you will do all year long!" The odd idea did reduce slightly the quarrelsomeness and surliness of the household.
Before I leave the Babe to wallow in his trough of food, I would qualify even more his dedication to the holidays. He was not so much of a materialist, a conventionalist, a glutton as it had begun to appear. By the time he was twelve he was getting almost no presents for Christmas and didn't care. He had already resolved never to exchange Christmas cards. He had begun to leave the house with brothers and friends to walk or see films after dining. He pushed off upon others the joys of decorating the Christmas Tree. He got out the train system and other toys mainly to amuse his small brothers; the tracks and rolling stock suffered from poor maintenance, and the soldiery were worn down from many battles.
He scorned all Santa Clauses, now terming them a pagan survival, and felt sorry for the Holy Family, including his middle namesake, Joseph, first because they had really been treated badly in their own time, and then because they had become as dwarfed in significance during the Christmas season as the statuettes that stood for them beneath the tree; he felt, however, small impulse to restore their lustre by attending church services for them.
All in all, the Babe had done his bit, aided and abetted by the Mom, to keep the vicious circle of anniversaries going, he the more hypocritically because he hardly accepted the Pilgrim Fathers as a model (They stayed in the East! They burned people at the stake! They had creepy notions of Fun!) and he did not believe in the miracles of Christ's birth, nor anyhow in the established churches, while Katie, down deep, understood the idea of the poor Pilgrim's feast and believed in Jesus Christ and the Saints, and she was happy to have the boy's company but would not plead for it when on half the occasions she attended a mass on Palm Sunday, Easter, and Christmas Day. As for the Dad, he was busy with concerts and jobs during the Holiday season and exhibited mainly a suave tolerance for the antics of the household.