Thursday, May 21, 2009

Color: Macaroni & Cheese

The only reason I write about this as color is because it was the name from the crayon box. It’s the orangey-yellow KRAFT M&C in a box. And by my book, the only kind of Macaroni and Cheese worth spending calories on. I’m not sure when it achieved that color but it’s been on the market since KRAFT introduced it in 1937, and became very popular during World War II when women went into the workforce.

The three most prevalent “prepared food” dinners that we had as children were fishsticks, Swanson chicken pot pies and KRAFT macaroni and cheese. My mother worked half to full time at the University and still we always managed to have a sit down dinner with all the food groups every night. And this was before microwaves. As a working mother I remember asking her how she did it. She asked if I remembered that we had a lot of casseroles. I think we had a lot of different combinations of ground beef (half a side of beef in the freezer always had lots of ground beef to use up) and Campbells cream of mushroom soup.

We didn’t have those prepared food dinners often, mostly we had them when my parents went out. They had a busy social life, including book clubs (individually, not as a couple), dad had some fly-tying or fly-fishing groups, and they had the bridge club.

Bridge Club
My sister Julie and I share different memories of our parents’ bridge group. They met quite frequently – about three tables worth (six couples) and would rotate hosting homes. We loved the regularly occurring evenings when we (the Harwood children) would be left to the house on our own – where we could fight uncorrected, and fend for ourselves – with the dinner possibility of getting Swanson’s Chicken Pot Pies (the best option), KRAFT macaroni and cheese from a box, or fish sticks (the worst option). And while those evenings were fun (getting to stay up late) and educational (I remember my brother instructing us on the proper procedure to light farts) my fonder memories are from the evenings when the bridge club met at our house.

The bridge group was comprised of local businessmen (including the town’s two optometrists and the undertaker) and university connections (the head of financial aid – a Mrs. – and the director of the physical plant). A wife of one of the optometrists was the personal assistant to the university President. This was a nice mix – not just university related (where both my parents worked) as so much of the rest of our life was.

My sister remembers that hosting bridge night meant we got the rare treat of having pop in the house. And she remembers the special treat of licking up the crumbs from the bottom of the bowl of the dry roasted peanuts.

I know the liquor flowed freely: people were happy, but I don’t remember any of it getting out of hand.

There were those beautiful pastel and black layered licorice squares that looked like petit fores and came in the “bridge mix.” I wished I had liked licorice because I so wanted to taste the beauty of these elegant treats. But I didn’t like black licorice so could not enjoy, even though I snuck one each time and tried it.

Once, when I was quite small, I snuck out of bed during a bridge group night at our house, flannel nightie clad, sat in the hallway listening to the adults and thought to myself “when I grow up I will use big words too.” Their conversations sounded so intelligent and witty. They were having a good time. Then, a few years later, when I was just starting to read chapter books, there was a bridge club night at our house when I had a fresh batch of chapter books from the library. I so wanted to impress these bridge playing adults. I left the bedroom door just slightly ajar…it was strategically located, as anyone using the bathroom would have to pass it. I read and read into the night, finishing three, then four, then all of my newly checked out chapter books. And not one adult popped their head in to express their admiration of my reading skills and dedication to it. I was disappointed. But I did get a lot of reading done.

I was fascinated by the bridge group meeting on the top floor of the town’s funeral parlor in the quarters of the director and his wife who were bridge group members. When this director passed a major milestone, perhaps his 60th birthday, the other bridge group members dressed in black clothes, clutching a rose and lay out on benches and lawns along the route this man walked every morning. As he got to them they rose up, zombie faced and started shadowing him on his walk. By the time he got through town he had quite a funeral procession following him. I wasn’t living in town anymore when this happened and only heard about it secondhand so it might not be completely accurate but it’s a good story none the less.

The ladies of the bridge group circulated a large football jersey with the following message in big words: “I’d rather be 50 than pregnant.” They each got a turn with the shirt when they turned 50. My mother was living out of the country when she turned 50 but the bridge group threw her a party anyway. They found an inflatable doll, a wig like my mother’s hair, and one of the optomotrists provided glasses just like Mom’s, put the jersey and these other things on the inflated doll and had a party, sending pictures to my mom to make sure she knew she wasn’t forgotten.

The bridge group holds a special place in my memory from a very young age. It reminds me of a simpler time when adults seemed so mysterious and I couldn’t wait to grow up to be like them. I don’t play bridge now, though that seems like that might be a fun thing to take up with the right group of people. And I am sure that I really am not as mature and clever as they seemed at the time. The words I use don’t seem big to me now. I still enjoy reading chapter books but I don’t imagine that that could impress anyone. I know for sure I don’t like black licorice so I don’t try those bridge mix treats. In fact I’m not sure if they still make them. I find it hard to believe that the bridge group members at the time I first remember those get-togethers were even younger than I am now when I think about how old, I’ll say “mature,” they seemed at the time.

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