I made Tilapia for dinner last week and as I was stirring up the sauce (Bill has to have catsup and miracle whip for his fried fish), I had a sudden memory of when I was 14 and living with my grandmother in Tonopah. It was the only house Grandma ever owned, a little four room shack, really. It was built into the side of a hill. I’ll write more about Grandma another time. But I loved lettuce and tomato salad with Miracle Whip on it. That was a treat for me.

Now, I kind of can’t believe I ate that, but Miracle Whip was the absolute bomb. I remember one peaceful afternoon–no one was home and I stirred up some Miracle Whip with the lettuce and tomatoes (nothing else, I thought that was what salad was!) and I felt on top of the world. I don’t think I tasted Ranch dressing until maybe 1975??

Food was always on my mind growing up—I was always hungry. I loved it at Grandma’s because she had food and she was generous about it. Big pots of beans with hot yeast biscuits. Roast, not fancy food, but there was always food. She made the best pie crust!

We lived with Grandma off and on through the years and were always grateful to eat. Life with Mom, not so much. My first food memory is Mom getting leftover vegetable soup from the cafe on Main Street in Caliente. I don’t think she begged, but she probably asked them for it to feed her kids. I was about four. I flat out refused to eat that soup. Mom never fed us vegetables! It might have even been good, but I was not touching it and I wasn’t hungry enough to cave, then.

The only thing my mother could cook was homemade bread and thank God for that. Another thing she made was plain old cake, which we put margarine on while it was hot. Cake with margarine, that’s what we ate. It wasn’t bad, really. Macaroni, plain, with butter and salt.

Once, when we’d moved from Caliente to Pioche with barely the clothes on our back, we didn’t eat for awhile. I honestly don’t know how long, maybe a day. Not enough to starve or anything, but for an 8 year old, enough to be really, really hungry. We went to a friend of my mother’s and she made tuna sandwiches. I stood back, watching her every move and I’ve never been so glad to eat anything in my life. Some of Mom’s friends always fed us. Others, when I would come to their door to “borrow some bread” would sigh, give me dirty looks and sometimes they’d have it–others not. Mom sent me to borrow food all the time. Which I knew she would never return. Which is why if I borrow an egg from somebody I know has 50 dozen eggs, they’re getting that egg back.

We lived in Kansas for about a year and a half when I was in 5th-6th grade. Toward the end of our stay in that poor, long-suffering town of generous and soft-hearted people, we somehow became completely destitute for about two weeks. We only had potatoes. We ate potatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. With salt. And you know, it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever been through. I actually remember them tasting pretty good.

Later, I remember my mother and stepfather bringing home broasted chicken from the Mizpah Hotel in Tonopah. THE very best chicken I’ve ever tasted, to this day. I don’t know how they made it, it was definitely broasted, with the “b” but it seemed deep fried, with a twist.

On paydays when we lived in Long Beach, they’d triumphantly bring home a couple bags of groceries, with hot dogs, fritos, and root beer. That was our big meal. There’d usually be some milk and bread and a few things, but there were always days with little food because after they bought that food, they would go out and get rip-roaring drunk, sometimes for a couple days. And the money would be gone.

Yeah, I was a mess of a parent, but my kids never went hungry. They probably remember BEING hungry, but not going hungry. And I know they remember good plentiful healthy food.

Because I was malnourished, I tended to obsess on food. I over-spent at the grocery store. If I was hungry, I’d spend money I couldn’t afford on treats or special foods. Now, I’m older and sickly and we have food coming out of our ears. I’m a pretty good cook. For Easter, we had Ham, a potato gratin (Barefoot Contessa Recipe)made with gruyere and heavy cream, asparagus, (the requisite) deviled eggs, rolls, cheesecake dessert—-and my piece d’ resistance (however you spell it). A salad of fresh mixed greens, sliced red onions, mandarin oranges and slivered almonds. With a Rasberry Vinegraitte (however you spell that!). No Miracle Whip.

But Miracle Whip has meaning in my life. Along with some other food that kept me going when times were tough.