A book club featuring books for smart women.
An excerpt from Carolyn Ridder Aspenson’s upcoming book Flying by the Seat of My Mom Jeans
My mother was one of five children from an Italian family, and I can’t say for sure, but I’m ninety-nine positive most of my extended family ate like wild animals, gorillas, to be exact.
We’d often make the drive from Indianapolis, Indiana to Chicago Heights, Illinois for regular Sunday dinners at Grandma and Grandpa’s house with my aunts, uncles, and cousins. After everyone finished eating, the dining room resembled an elementary school lunchroom or a colossal college cafeteria food fight. Either way, I’m sure you get the picture. Spaghetti stuck on the walls, meatballs rolled under the table, gravy (yes, gravy, not sauce) plastered on the buffet, and bread splayed across the table like it had died a slow, torturous death. The result of our dinners wasn’t for lack of manners; my family was just too busy focusing on more important things, like which baseball team was better, the Cubs or the White Sox.
I’d enjoyed the verbal battle too much to notice the food fly, but my father went into full-on panic attack mode from it. Preferring the Indy 500 over baseball anyway, he’d politely and swiftly eat his meal and then quietly retreat upstairs for a nap until my mother finished her clean up duties and could be torn away without too much of a fight. My father grew up in a small, reserved family where no one spit food while speaking.
My first date with Jack was December 7, 1997. I met Erika and Morgan shortly after that at his restaurant of choice, Hooters.
As a child, I never quite understood my father’s push for proper table etiquette, but that first meeting at Hooters…that brought the matter front and center. And by front and center, I mean I wiped it from my face, my clothes, and even picked it out of my hair.
You know how some people can’t handle the sound of nails on a chalkboard? The moment the girls stuffed their greasy Buffalo wings and French fries into their babbling little mouths, their eating habits instantly became my nails scratching down a chalkboard.
For the next several years of my life.
French fry and wing parts spewed onto the table like a spit wad contest. Pieces sailed across it and onto my sweater. I’m sure I winced. I’m confident I snarled. I know I imagined myself jumping over the table and grabbing the offensive food from their wing sauce stained mouths, lecturing them on proper eating etiquette and educating them into well-mannered young ladies, all in a matter of seconds.
A girl can dream, right?
I waited for Jack to say something, anything, to make them keep their chewed slop where it belonged, but he didn’t, so I took it upon myself to explain how a lady should eat.
“Erika, you should chew with your mouth closed honey, it’s not ladylike to let everyone see your food like that.”
She pursed her lips, and her bushy eyebrows bunched together. “But I’m not a lady. I’m a little girl.”
“No, not yet, but one day you will be, so you should probably practice now, don’t you think?”
She shook her head. “Nope. I don’t wanna.” As she spoke, a piece of her chicken drumstick flew from her mouth and landed in my salad.
Jack glanced at me and chuckled. I wondered if I’d go out with him again. Probably not, I thought.
Morgan spoke, and when she did, I nearly jumped out of my seat and ran to the door. She’d said a few things before, but her voice had this way of sneaking up on you, and based on her look, it was completely false advertising. For a tot the size of a miniature garden gnome (she barely surpassed one after puberty) the child’s voice packed a punch—think the demon in The Exorcist—but her words made no sense. The raspy voice bellowing from her pint-sized body shook the table and silenced the place.
Straight out silenced a Hooters restaurant full of sports-watching (and booty/boob admiring) men.
“I’m (inaudible) a la-(inaudible) sod (inaudible),” she said.
I glanced at Jack, my mouth hanging open in utter confusion. “What did she just say?”
He shrugged, because really what else could he do? She spoke in three-year-old unintelligible chatter.
Erika interpreted Morgan’s sentence for us. “She said she’s gonna be a lady someday, too, and can we have ice cream for dessert?”
Jack agreed to ice cream for dessert, and I firmly believed he’d just been scammed. I didn’t give up though, because I was a trooper, and I figured a bribe would work. Oh, the naivety of the inexperienced.
“Ice cream’s my treat, but only if you eat the rest of your dinner without putting your elbows on the table, and if you keep your mouths closed while you chew. I know you’re not ladies yet, but you really should practice this kind of stuff for when you are.”
Morgan’s mouth warped into a frown, and Erika’s took on a snarl-like shape. She still has it today, and it’s commonly called her biatch look.
“Okay,” Erika said, though clearly, she wasn’t happy.
“Ma(inaudible),” Morgan said.
“She said okay, too,” Erika said for her.
I swiped my hands and puffed out my chest, sure of my success. I nailed it, and I hadn’t even reeled in the husband, though hadn’t yet come to mind. Step-mommying would be a no-brainer for me, obviously.
They spent the next hour spitting food at me. I don’t think they swallowed a bite. They tossed it onto the floor and played with it like Play-Doh. I wanted to barf on my salad, but alas, I had those manners my dad made sure I’d learned.
When we left and they wanted their ice cream, I explained that they didn’t do as I’d told, so ice cream wasn’t an option.
Oh, how inexperienced with children I was.
Once Jack was able to tie them down and duct tape their crying, screaming mouths (figuratively speaking, of course) he drove straight to the grocery store and purchased a gallon of vanilla ice cream to stuff their angry little pie holes just to stop my brain from pounding out of my head.
I spent the next morning on the phone apologizing to my parents for being a child.
They spent the entire conversations laughing at me.
Carolyn Ridder Aspenson is an author of women’s mystery novels. She grew up in Indianapolis and the Northwest Chicago suburbs but grew tired of the cold and snow, and now lives in the Atlanta suburbs with her husband, two cats, and two dogs. Now that she’s an official empty nester, she’s able to spend more time focused on the things she loves again: writing, reading, not arithmetic, though it would fit the theme of the sentence, and health and wellness. Carolyn’s background in media and journalism has given her an opportunity to discover great authors and exciting books in a variety of genres.
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