Thursday, April 30, 2015

Goulash

I never cease to be fascinated with how the mind—and, of course, my mind specifically—works.
I admire those whose minds and thoughts are like a well organized closet where there is a place for everything and everything is in it’s place. Mine is much more like a “Help Yourself” bin at a yard sale. Thoughts suddenly appear from absolutely nowhere, and disappear just as quickly. 

I was thinking about goulash this morning (see what I mean?). And that thought immediately took me back to my childhood, when goulash was a frequent meal, and was often served (in my household, at least) when guests came over for dinner. America was just emerging from the Great Depression, and times and money were still tough. In 1938, the year I turned five, the minimum wage was reset by the government at twenty-five cents an hour; the average annual wage in the United States was $1,750.00. I’d imagine that’s just about what my father made as a manager-training instructor for the Western Tire Auto Company. My mom didn't work at the time...I'd just recovered from a badly broken leg which required her full-time attention, and I was a pretty high-maintenance kid at best.

Goulash, just in case you don't know, is an extraordinarily flexible and nourishing dish.  It is most usually made of beef (Mom used hamburger because it was cheaper—less than 20 cents a pound), onions, stewed tomatoes, and almost any other vegetables you have on hand, spices--primarily paprika powder, without which goulash is not goulash--and pre-cooked elbow macaroni. It originated in Czechoslovakia, where the word means  "mishmash," and depending on how it's made it can be considered a soup or a stew. 

My folks, still under 30 in 1938, had lots of friends, all of whom were in the same financial boat as they. They'd get together often, and social gatherings then consisted mainly of just friends sitting around talking, or playing games. I don't remember that beer, wine, or any type of alcohol played as much a part of social life as it does today. And very frequently, friends would just stop by, unannounced. If it was near dinner time, or if they stayed until dinner time, Mom would make a large batch of goulash. If there was any left over, we'd have it for dinner the next night. And if someone else showed up while she was cooking, it was easy to just add a little more water, or toss in more cooked macaroni or whatever happened to be around.

My family was what was considered "lower middle class," but I was completely unaware of it. To a child, whatever conditions you're used to are, simply, the way is—you don't miss what you’re not aware of. Goulash was to me what prime rib or filet mignon or lobster tails was to those more wealthy. I was largely unaware of the financial pressures my parents were under, or the sacrifices they made for me. It is with considerable shame that I remember the time my parents had to take the money from my piggy bank to buy something they did not have enough of their own money to cover, and how angry I was with them. You have no idea how I wish I could have my parents back, even for an hour, to tell them how much I appreciate what they did for me.

I'd love a bowl of my mom's goulash right about now, and to hear the talk and laughter of friends long gone. But that's all right: all I have to do is close my eyes and open my heart, and they're here.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).



1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

Life is a bit like goulash anyway, isn't it? A little bit of everything thrown in? But without the main ingredient, it isn't really life.

Your parents know what they meant to you, D. Don't think for a second they don't have regrets, too. As guilty as I feel about things with my father from time to time, my mother reminds me of things from my childhood he regretted. It works both ways and we all worry the other doesn't know we care.

We do. And we know.