In the writing groups this week we wrote about kitchens and food. Which reminded me of this story, written many years ago, that I want to share here, again.
It’s meatball day. There's a wet-mud squishy sound as Grandma digs around in the large white ceramic bowl, making sure no fleck of meat escapes a thin coating of egg. She scoops out a small handful of chopped meat and plops it on the table in front of me, to play. I can’t make little animals the way she can — tiny meat ducks and meat birds — and Grandma’s too busy to make them for me.
I know she’s in a hurry, lots of meatballs to make, and everyone will be here soon, my parents, my sister, Uncle Stanley and Aunt Birdie and the cousins. Grandpa will be home from work, too, and we’ll all eat in the back room at the long table and Daddy won’t be happy.
He doesn’t like to eat meatballs and spaghetti with ketchup, he says no one does this in America except the Jews. Aunt Birdie doesn’t mind, she says she likes ketchup, ketchup goes good with everything, she says, and Daddy will just make that noise which means there’s a lot he could say but he isn’t going to, not now. But he might, later. He might say something about onions-on-the-side and then Mom will have to remind him that Grandpa can’t eat onions and that’s why they’re on the side. And Daddy will make that noise again.
So I don’t ask Grandma to make me any baby meat animals, I just take my mound of meat and I make little balls. Three balls, then 5, then 6 then 7 then 8. I make a dozen little baby meat balls. I know a dozen is 12, 12 is a dozen, I have a dozen meat marbles, a dozen meat beads.
Beads. I can make a necklace. I can ask Grandma for a piece of string and a needle and I can thread my meat beads onto the string and wear it around my neck. I’m just going to ask her, can I have a piece of string Grandma, and a needle, but then I hear the dumb waiter start up, that big dark damp stony hole behind the kitchen wall is making noise, the metal wheels are grinding and the thick, worn rope is moving the wooden platform all the way up to the 3rd floor, to the MacAvie’s kitchen.
It sounds like Maccabee. I thought the Maccabees lived up there, but then Grandpa heard me say that and he said, no no, there are no Maccabees in this building, they’re the MacAvies. So now I’m more careful, I say MacAvie. Mrs. MacAvie and Mr. MacAvie and their two sons, Charlie and Brian, they are MacAvies too.
Now Mrs. MacAvie opens the dumb waiter door in her kitchen and puts a bag of garbage on the wooden platform and pulls on the thick rope and the wheels turn again and she closes the door and I can hear the platform moving down past our dumb waiter door, on the other side, in the big black hole in the wall and I breathe in, I want to see if I can smell the MacAvie’s garbage, but I can’t smell it, I can only smell the chopped meat. And the onion way over there on the edge of the table so it doesn’t get near the meat and spoil it for Grandpa.
I pile my little meat beads up in a row, 12 little beads, almost the same size, but one is a little bit bigger, just a little, I could pinch off the teeniest piece of it and stick it on another bead, but then that one will maybe be a little bit bigger. I don’t know what to do. I just look at my little meat beads and I think what a pretty necklace they’ll make and I think, why is it okay to call it a dumb waiter?
Dumb isn’t a nice word and you shouldn't say it, just like you shouldn't say booger or fart, so why do we call the dumb waiter dumb? Even Grandma says it and she never says a bad word, she never talks mean about anybody, never, but even she says, “Open the dumb waiter for me, Irenchicle” and I’m going to ask her about it, I’m going to ask her why, just as soon as I ask her for a needle and a piece of thread so I can make my meat necklace.
But before I can, Grandma reaches over and scoops up all my little beads and mushes them together and plops them on top of the last glob of meat she’s holding in her hand, the last little bit from the white ceramic bowl, and that makes the very last meatball, so I guess this week I won’t have a meat necklace.
Maybe next week I’ll have one. A real nice one, to go with my new dress — it’s black velvet and it has a white lace color that I better keep clean if I know what’s good for me, and the buttons are red, red buttons and a white collar, it’s very beautiful.
It’ll be even more beautiful when I put my meat bead necklace on, then it will be the most beautiful dress I have. It will be more than just a dress. It will be an outfit. I’ll wear it every day, not just for special occasions. Every day, me in my black velvet dress with the clean white collar and the round red buttons and my perfect necklace made out of meat beads.