I can remember eating my mom’s porcupine meatballs as a child. It was by far one of my favorites. Something about eating food with an animal’s name in it gives it some sort of thrill.
Actual porcupines suffer from a challenge in intimacy. You see, they need to stay close to each other to stay warm during cold weather. However, the closer they get, the more they prick each other with their spikes. This causes them to stay apart. It’s called the porcupine dilemma.
Sometimes I feel like a porcupine getting pricked by the quills of loss. The pain stays the same but it’s a feeling you get used to. I catch myself pushing my mom away because I don’t want to go back to that pain I went through 5 years ago. When family tells stories about her, most times I listen, but sometimes I feel the need to block it out. Smile and nod. Whatever it takes to hold in the tears.
I don’t like crying in public. Hell, I don’t like crying at all. My eyes stay puffy for two days and I’m the definition of an ugly crier. No one likes an ugly crier. It’s uncomfortable.
That is probably why I’m so introverted. I’m that girl you’ll make plans with then two hours before will say, “Oh, I got called into work. Next time!” Yep, I’m that asshole friend. I can’t help it. Sometimes sitting on my couch alone with my pets sounds much better than cramming into a noisy bar and getting hit on by dudes I’m not interested in. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I’m feeling adventurous and extroverted. I’ll venture out to bars, but I’m more into the bars hidden under a bridge with the same two drunk dudes that come in every night. The type that doesn’t play loud music but cooks some damn good wings and always has Lienenkugal on tap. I’m looking at you, Clancy’s.
I don’t remember much of my mom’s cooking. There are only a few things I can recall eating, like pork chops and spaghetti. I do know, however, that she was always cooking something. She liked her kitchen. It was always spotless. If you left a candy wrapper on the counter, she’d be the first to notice. She was a perfectionist, but it seemed like she didn’t even have to try. The house was always spotless. Her office was perfectly organized. She’d always scrub the sink spotless, something my dad and I never understood until we did it ourselves. It just looks so much better clean opposed to dirty.
Eating her porcupine meatballs gave me entertainment. I’d imagine little beasts running around in sauce on my plate, only to be harpooned by my fork and dumped into my mouth.
The taste is something I’ll never forget. The addition of brown sugar made a good sauce great. Throw some on the side of mashed potatoes and you’re on a first class seat to heaven’s gates. And who thought to put rice in meatballs? I’d like to shake that person’s hand.
After my mom passed, my dad didn’t make many of the things she did. My dad’s cooking style is very different than hers. He likes making these things he calls “one skillet meals.” AKA he throws some vegetables and meat in pan with some seasoning and calls it a day. But damn, are they good.
I remember when she passed away, our fridge, freezer, and chest freezer were all packed with meals made by family friends. Every day there was someone new knocking on the door, saying, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” The ironic part about it was that it wasn’t just our loss. If the abundance of food didn’t speak on it’s own, the line that wrapped around the funeral home would speak for it. There were so. many. people. Most I knew, or had heard of. My softball team came, my grade-school friends came, people from miles away came, all to celebrate my mom’s life.
My mom did something very her right before she died. She made it a point to tell people not to wear black at her funeral. She wanted everyone to wear bright and happy colors. She didn’t want us to be sad, she wanted us to be joyous she lived such a good life. People listened. There wasn’t a black outfit in sight.
When I moved out on my own, I decided to attempt the Porcupine Meatball recipe myself. It was good, but not as good. On a scale from 1-10, hers was a 10 and mine was a disappointment. But I still got that flashback to sitting at dinner squished between the window and the table. Birds watching us from the bird feeder that sat right outside. My mom is sitting next to me, repeating the nightly dinner grace. A prayer we now finish with “God Bless Mum.” A routine we have yet to break.
We’d say amen and I’d fight my brothers for who got first dibs, I always seemed to lose. My short arms just weren’t quick enough. We’d talk about our days between forkfuls of grub. I’d talk about what I did at school and what funny things my friends said. We’d talk about our weekend plans and work schedules. I always told myself that’s something I’d do with my children-dinner every night as a family at the table.
My mom very rarely allowed us to eat on the couch. Most times I come home now my dad and I are eating in the living room, on the once forbidden couches. He always says, “Don’t tell mom.” It makes me smile every time. We sit separate from each other, both facing the television. Trying to talk about what is new, but most times coming up short. Both of our minds are racing to think of something to fill the void, always ending with a glance and a smile. It’s a scene I miss when I’m away, one that I cherish.
I told my dad that I attempted the recipe and the next time I was home, he did too. The house filled with an aroma that I recognized as soon as I walked through the door. The first bite and I instantly knew he nailed it. The sauce was the perfect sweetness and consistency. The meatballs had the exact amount of rice. It was put together just like she used to do it. There’s something about a parent’s love that makes food taste so good.