Family Ties

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 31, 1999

MARY ANN FITZMORRIS / L’Observateur / July 31, 1999

Once upon a time I made spaghetti sauce. With tomatoes, and spices, andolive oil. Like my mother used to make. Come to think of it, spaghettisauce might have been the only thing my mother did actually make herself.

My mother was one of the original liberated women. Everything we atecame from a can, except the things that came from a box, like potatoes and fish.

But mom’s spaghetti sauce was great, and I changed it only slightly for my own kids. They loved it, for awhile.Alas, school broadens a child’s horizons, and one day my kids asked me at the supermarket to buy a jar of Ragu. One taste of that and theyimmediately relieved me of my duties as Italian cook.

I didn’t actually mind this change, because Ragu is certainly less time consuming that the stuff from scratch, and one never knows if actually consumption of food will take place, as opposed to playing with food or just staring at food.

But shortly after we decided we all loved Ragu, Madison Avenue convinced my daughter that Prego was better. So, one day at the supermarket, wedecided to give Prego a try. That’s when the trouble began.My son decided he loved Ragu and hated Prego and my daughter decided she loved Prego and hated Ragu, or was it the other way around? It didn’t matter, the ever elusive consensus was not there. Well, that’snot exactly true. While one hated Ragu and the other hated Prego, they bothhated my homemade sauce.

Today I had half as much Ragu as I needed and a whole jar of Prego. I mixedthe two, being careful to have both jars seen so they would not be sure what was in the sauce they were eating. I hoped that the inability to tellthe difference and the assurance of each having seen a jar of the one they liked would comfort them into eating. At the same time I knew I wasgambling with the possibility that it would go the other way and no one would eat. I remained in the kitchen with fingers crossed on both hands.From the dining room came the question I feared. “Is this Ragu or Prego? Iwasn’t sure who had asked the question, nor was I straight on who hated what.

A nervous sweat appeared on my face as my mind searched for the answer that gave me the best chance of anybody eating anything.”What do youthink it is?,” I countered, using one of my mother’s tactics which drove me crazy as a child.

When the child that hates Ragu answered “Ragu,” and the one who hates Prego answered “Prego,” I knew lunch was over.

It reminded me of dinner the other night when my kids had some friends over. I served the other house staple, macaroni and cheese.My daughter has yet to talk me into the boxed version because they are still eating mine.

I went in to clear the table. My children’s plates were empty and the othertwo kids hadn’t really touched theirs. Their mom was there to pick themup and I asked her if I could get her kids something else so they would have something to eat.

She seemed puzzled that they hadn’t eaten one of their favorites, but she assured me hot dogs would do the trick.

Then, following automatic instinct, or the first rule of motherhood, she began to eat their leftovers. After the first bite, she got a dreamy,nostalgic look on her face and smiled the question, “Is this REAL macaroni and cheese?” I answered affirmatively.

“There’s your problem,” she said.

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