When I was six months old, my mother packed up what few belongings we had and left my father. She always did what was in the best interest of my brother and me, and our father was an idiot who didn’t care about us. Although she was young (24 when she had my brother and 26 when she had me), she was a strong and independent woman. I inherited that nature.
One thing my mother was not was a chef; we were raised on instant mashed potatoes and other things that came out of a box. She married again when I was four and started working as a secretary when my stepfather lost his job. To my surprise, she loved it, but she didn’t have time to prepare sit-down meals, and we were not a family that ate together at the table. On the weekends at our home in Queens, New York, she cooked, but during the week we would fend for ourselves—a lot of pasta, and pizza on Friday nights.
The one thing she made from scratch was Italian meatballs and sauce, stored in yellow and orange Tupperware containers in the freezer. I played a lot of sports in high school, and when I came home after softball practice, I was famished. On my bike ride from Victory Field, I was already envisioning a big bowl of spaghetti with meatballs. The house was usually empty when I arrived, and after dropping my bike in the backyard, the first thing I did was put a pot of boiling water on the stove and pull a Tupperware out of the freezer. There was no microwave, so I had to push the frozen mass from the bottom of the container like an ice cube tray. It heated up while I changed out of my softball uniform, popping back and forth to give it a stir until it was perfect. I took my place in front of the TV, ignoring homework for the time being. Childhood deliciousness.
I’m not sure where it came from—the family genetic pool includes Hungarian, Swedish, Russian, irish, and Polish—but the same determination that made my 26-year-old mother pack up her babies and leave a philandering husband has followed her through life. When she’s had enough BS from someone, it's done. Exactly like me. She left my stepfather when I turned 18 and has been with her partner Ron for more than 30 years but refuses to get married again. A huge difference between the two of us is that I love change. I get bored with the same routine and am always looking for the new experience, which she could never understand.
But she does understand something important about me. I came out as a lesbian more than 25 years ago. At first she was fine, then she had some trouble with it, but now she's fully accepted it and just wants me (and my brother) to be happy. That's usually how she processes things: freak out first, then acceptance.
Suzanne Hollo is a registered vascular technologist and amateur writer with two e-books; she can be found at @suehollo/.
1/4 c. olive oil
3 minced garlic cloves
1/2 lb. ground sausage
1 lb. chopped beef
2 (28 oz.) cans crushed tomatoes (Scalafini or Tuttarusso brands preferred)
6 oz. can tomato paste
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper
BIG handful of chopped fresh basil
1/2 t. oregano
In a large saucepan over medium flame, heat oil.
Add garlic and sausage, breaking up with a fork for about 5 minutes.
Add chopped beef and continue cooking until browned.
Add tomato paste, red pepper flakes, salt, black pepper and basil.
Add crushed tomatoes.
Fill one can halfway with water and add to pan.
Simmer uncovered for at least 3 hours at least, stirring occasionally.
Stir in oregano.