Mashed Potatoes Meet Venetian Blinds

Most families have stories about the mischief their children created and folklore that perpetuates these myths. Each tale is told over and over again to reinforce the message.  We all have a badge that we proudly wear that keeps these fables alive. My family is no different. Let me tell you some of our mythology. 
Diane takes care of Mitchell as I try to get his attention
There is the family tale of my older sister Diane who preferred to bathe my younger brother instead of helping my mother in the kitchen. In Slater mythology, somehow this story became linked to Diane’s purported lack of interest in cooking. This has been told over and over again and who knows what truth there is but it’s often the subject of a laugh at my sister’s expense. To this day I feel a tinge of guilt having perpetuated this story for so many years. Is this really what happened or does repeating it serve some greater purpose to connect us all in the family lore? Did Diane know at any early age that she preferred taking care of babies instead of learning how to make a brisket? Why did we keep repeating this tale? 

Mitchell performing at my wedding September 11, 1977
  Then there is the story of Mitchell, my younger brother and his love of singing commercials at a young age. It was always Sing Along with Mitch time at 20 Warwick as he would belt out the latest jingle as if he were pitching products on TV. Whether school plays or private shows, he was always being handed a microphone or stage to perform when he was young. You’d think that he would have grown up to love the limelight, enjoying performing in public or even have his own obsession with musicians from N.J. (Shout out to Bruce) But what good does retelling this serve?  Does it surprise anyone that Mitchell just celebrated his fiftieth birthday by having a Bruce Springsteen cover band perform with Mitchell as the lead singer? How do these family fables orchestrate our family’s sound track? 

Duneridge Balcony in Wrightsville Beach, N.C.

My oldest daughter Sarah has her own childhood anecdotes but one of my favorites was from Wrightsville Beach. On August 12, 1994, Sarah was 13 and spent an entire evening on the balcony of our rented condo on the beach yearning for some boy named Thomas who we thought was in the apartment above us. They must have had “a moment” at the pool or walking back from the beach. In her 13 year old eyes, she was smitten.

Sarah, her grandparents and Fanny on the balcony
 Sarah sat out on the balcony after dinner until two AM…in homage to Juliet as she waited for her Romeo or Thomas to show up. He never did. Yet I love to remind Sarah about this little family foible reminding her how she waited so patiently that summer evening.  In fact, this week while home from Hawaii, Sarah uncovered an old diary that contained memories of this emotional awakening. Thomas, where for art thou?

My youngest daughter Fanny has so many antics from childhood that picking one to memorialize is truly difficult. The one our family talks about often (besides the Britney Epoch) was the annual ritual after blowing out the candles on her birthday cake and smashing her face into her sugary pillow. She needed an audience to perform but once the chants started…cake, cake, cake she would plunge right in as if diving into a sweet swimming pool.
The traditional continues...

We are often surprised on her recent birthdays that she still doesn’t do this although we realize the pressure of being funny at twenty five versus five is quite different. Was Fanny acting out wanting to be the center of attention- was this just a pure moment of childhood improvisation that just became part of her signature celebration each year. I always said that Fanny takes the cake.

Cake in Face- a Fanny birthday ritual
What is my story?
Well, let me take you back via my blogging time machine to 1959 and Newark, New Jersey. The Slater family had a ritual of going to eat at least once a month at one of Newark’s finest restaurants called The Tavern located at 444 Elizabeth Avenue , on the corner of Meeker Avenue, in Newark's Weequahic section.

The Tavern Restaurant in Newark, New Jersey

The restaurant was located in an up and coming Jewish section of Newark. Usually dinner was preceded by the family going to a Broadway play like The Music Man or South Pacific. We would line the family up from tallest to smallest and take a family photograph before heading in for dinner. The rest is unclear to me since I really don’t remember any of this except for the half-baked tale of what I allegedly did…at least according to my parents

The Slater family lines up for dinner. The author is the last one one on the line.

I am thinking of what trouble I can do inside

It seemed that dinner at a nice restaurant was not my favorite thing. This is odd when I look back at it now because I love eating at restaurants and food is a passion. However, at age four I probably didn’t care very much about any of the culinary aspects of life. I do recall being somewhat inventive and loved to find creative things to do that usually involved my own little fantasy world. I liked to draw, paint and generally express myself. Often I would sit at dinner with my Aunt Annette and she would play all sorts of games with me to get me thinking creatively and to think outside the box.

As the legend goes, we are sitting at dinner and the family is engaged in conversation. Poppa Joey and Mama Gertie are at the head of the table along with Lolly and Judd and their three children, Michael, Mark and Janie. Robbie, my Dad’s younger brother is next to my Grandmother as he was probably a teenager. My other Grandparents, the Ginsberg’s would have been included too so they plus my Aunt would have been present. My parents Bea and Jack would be together with Diane and me. (Mitchell was a later edition).

Mashed Potatoes Ready for Tossing
 I guess when everyone was engaged in adult conversations; I somehow managed to take my mashed potatoes from my plate, coat them onto the venetian blinds and then with the flick of the string…sent them flying all over the dining room. Mash potato projectiles whipped around the room as I hid for cover. (Remember the part of me being encouraged to be creative?)

Did this really happen? Was I truly that mischievous? Is there any evidence of this actually happening? It doesn’t matter.
S L A T E R that boy

Venetian Blinds sans Mashed Potatoes
The mere mention of these two phrases: mashed potatoes and venetian blinds have stuck with me like peanut butter to the roof of my mouth. Like a Google search, the mere mention of key words like potatoes, mashed potatoes, Newark, The Tavern or any kind of window treatment always ends up with me getting “the family treatment”. Of course, with the passing of so many of those present in 1959, this is a fading memory but still a Slater moment or one of of my Moments Later that I hold onto dearly. Whether real or imagined, this moment is every lasting and so filling.

I guess I can try and psychoanalyze why we all have these little folk fables attached to us and my family. Perhaps it’s a way to create family histories that bind us together. Like threads that connect separate patches in a quilt, sometimes we need those connectors to bind together weaker parts. Life has a funny way of mashing things together…sometimes for reasons we just can’t possibly understand.

So would you pass the mashed potatoes…I see a window of opportunity.

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