In my wasted days of youth, dinner time was never set by a wall clock or the Mickey Mouse watch on my wrist. It was set by Ivan Pavlov’s ghost and he haunted every backyard in my neighborhood. His unseen presence played the Pied Piper in the last piece of a psychological game of mouse trap that lured the young boys of Wildwood Terrace to their respective places at the supper table.
I lived in a quiet town amidst the tops of the Ramapo Mountains of Northern Jersey during times when boys practically lived outside. Sounds, smells and the way the wind felt were unknowingly training us to be perfectly in tune with the environment. My finely tweaked ears could hear Dad’s Volkswagen Beetle a mile away. My dog could hear it for two miles. This was the case with each dog and their relevant owners’ vehicles. The dogs would then do their thing. Mine would run and hide. I don’t know what the others would do, but the neighborhood would fill with barking. Mom would get the signal and give the nights’ feast another stir. Then, instinctively as if a Stepford wife from Passaic County, would lean out the kitchen door, reach a reach that could be done blinded folded to the bells outside the back door. Maybe they came with the house, maybe our dads installed it, but we all had one. Mine was shaped like the liberty bell maybe six inches high attached to a cast iron horseshoe apparatus and screwed firmly against our ranch style house. When I looked at it, I imagined a crack. When I touched it, my mom would give my hands a whack.
Every day from forts made of sticks and mud and leaves, heads would poke out upon hearing their own ‘dong dong’ or ‘ding ding’ or ‘ding dong’ or Fred’s ‘clunk clunk’. His bell would always send us sprawling with laughter. How we heard our bells deep in the enchanted forest was a mystery, but it stopped us mid crime. Mouths would begin to water and you could hear the grumble deep within growing young men.
Pete’s mom would be slicing squares of piping hot lasagna. Oozing with ricotta and mozzarella cheeses and steam rising from her homemade meat sauce was enough imagery for all want to eat over his house. Garrett’s plate would be waiting with Arroz con Gandules. It was his favorite, but we couldn’t figure out his love for rice with pigeon peas. Fred’s mom didn’t speak a lick of understandable English and sometime his translations were sketchy. So I wasn’t sure if Spätzle mit Sauerkraut und Semmelbrösel sounded good or not.
My dinner table beheld something a little less creative in the naming, but not in the delicious department. My mom called it ‘Glop’. She said it was her families’ Irish version of cottage pie, a rib-sticking combination of meat, potatoes and vegetables.
Our swords and sheilds made of oak limbs and garbage can lids dropped to the ground as the bells rang out a second time. In nearly perfect unison we shouted.