Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you. Wow, this prompt opens up so many possibilities for me, since I feel like I have lived my whole life around food, usually not in a very good or happy way.
Fortunately, the prompt gave me leeway to talk about any (or all) aspects of a meal that has deep roots in my memory from the food I ate to a description of the place I was when I ate it. More importantly, I get to include the people who were there AND a reminder from one of my new-found favorite authors, Anne Lamott, who wrote in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life: “If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
Warning – This post does not contain any photos, just copied evocative velvet art!
The Tijuana Inn, Gardena, California, early 1960s
This was my family’s go-to dining-out spot. I don’t remember much about the Mexican food they served, but I gleefully recall the pats of butter that came to the table with the tortillas. I have been told that I refused to eat as a baby. Healthy eating habits were not a concern for elementary school kids in those days, so what I looked forward to the most when my family of four (Mom, Dad and little Sis) sat down at one of the tables was licking the sweet creamy butter off those little soft cardboard squares, one after the other, and bring me some more, please!
Like the food, the restaurant’s décor has not remained clear in memory, either. I’m pretty sure there were many booths, maybe some of them were round. I think the upholstery was orange pleather, the kind that leaves lines on your thighs after you have peeled them from your seat. I googled the Tijuana Inn, which I knew no longer existed, and found that the old place had gone into bankruptcy before it burned down last century. The entry also provided its location, which brought to mind a memory of a bank of plate glass windows across the front, facing dear old Gardena (or was it Redondo Beach?) Boulevard. Like many family dining establishments, they featured painted-on decorations in December, maybe even “Feliz Navidad” or “Feliz Año Nuevo.”
There is, however, one aspect of the décor that I remember made a big impression on me as a child: a couple of large, almost wall size paintings, which I think were actually the kitschy but endearing velvet kind. One featured what I imagined was an Aztec god or warrior, cradling the limp form of a beautiful Latina in a pristine white dress, and I wondered what their location and relationship were. The other one was of a bullfighter in the ring with an angry bull, and I never wondered what their relationship or location was. I didn’t really want to think about it.
The last clear memory I have of eating there, and just about anywhere else we ate as a family while we all lived under the same roof, was how my parents liked to tease my sister by saying that she placed her orders “from the right side of the menu.” This meant that her selection was always the most expensive among us. Maybe that’s why, even now as a fifty-five-year-old twice-divorced single woman, she’s still looking for a “Sugar Daddy?”