My mother is having a birthday. As she puts it she’s not fond of birthdays, but prefers them to the alternative. Each year I try to come up with something creative for someone who has covered most of the bases over the years already. Being the “only chick”, the onus is on me to make her birthday special and hopefully memorable. One year, waaaaaaay back, living out of state I forgot. What living out of state has to do with it I’m not sure, but I threw it in by way of a defense. This has never been forgotten, or repeated, especially since it’s never been forgotten.
With our clan continuing to expand, remembering all the birthdays requires a “birthday calendar”, and making sure no one feels slighted a financial consultant. With groceries, gas, and general living expenses on the rise I have had to lower their expectations when they find a card with my handwriting in the mail, because finances simply can’t handle the traffic anymore. At one time everyone got a piece of the pie, but between Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, not to mention the heavy hitters like birthdays and Christmas, it can get out of hand pretty quickly. Aside from the cost involved in keeping up, picking out the perfect gift isn’t easy anymore. It used to be a doll or a game would suffice but now it has to be interactive and most likely expensive.
I consider myself so fortunate to have had my mother with me throughout my journey. Certainly she has stuck with me through the worst and best of it. Being my biggest fan she’s watched me walk down the aisle four times each time holding out equal optimism for the results. Go team Mom! Somehow we struggled through my teenage years without inflicting personal injury one another, a feat looking back I consider short of a miracle. Being an only child can be a bit daunting at times. It falls on you to pull the wagon, and if it goes off the road there is no one else to point a finger at. Certainly on the plus side all the attention comes in your direction without other siblings involved. The spotlight steadily shining on you can be both good and bad, especially if you’re trying to get away with something. A side effect might be a selfish bent if spoiled, as sharing is not a word you learn much about until you reach adulthood with the full share of your parents love and devotion piled solely upon your person. I was given lots of love, but was taught responsibility and had to earn my way to things my heart desired. Being an only encourages an independent nature, often making it easier to entertain oneself when the need arises. I have many friends with multiple siblings, who simply don’t know what to do with themselves when left to their own devices. Conversely, I find alone time a happy place on many occasions, giving rise to deep thought and creativity.
At fourteen, when my mother remarried, I was handed a stepfather with my piece of white cake with raspberry cream filling, and a stepbrother. I would have preferred a scoop of ice cream. Adjusting to the new men in my life was a process fraught with ripples, and I certainly didn’t calm the waters. Up until then I’d been doing just fine on my own, and suddenly every other weekend, holidays, and summers I had a tussle headed shadow at my heels I hadn’t signed up for.
Mike was two years younger than I, and for some unknown reason thought the sun rose and set on my sorry behind. To me, he was like an annoying bee circling my piece of watermelon. I was a teenager with lots of friends, and having a little brother tagging along wasn’t number one on my list. “Take Mike with you, Honey”, became the mantra around our house.
The first year as a new family was a rocky one. Slowly but surely I came to accept the annoying little bee around my watermelon, and came to find a certain protective feeling rising in me. Mike was a latchkey kid, much like myself, from a broken family, much like myself. His mother was a lady with a huge head of unnaturally bright red hair and a penchant for Boone’s Farm Tickle Pink Wine. I remember this only because when visiting their house to pick up my stepbrother, the empty bottles were displayed all over the living room having been put into use as flower vases, candle holders, and herb gardens. Amazing. In comparison to my stepfather who stood well over six feet, his ex was a short woman as wide as she was tall. Professing to have an hour glass figure, she was prone to wearing waist pinching belts moving what was gathered there either flowing up and over the top or oozing out below. A non-stop talker, her bright crimson lips entertained a perpetual wagging cigarette, and she smelled, as I remember, quite strongly of Evening in Paris perfume. The house itself was hippie chic. Love beads dangled from the doors and incense burned in a pot by a stereo usually blaring the latest Stone’s hit. Laundry hung everywhere. In order to sit it was necessary to remove something covering the furniture to locate a spot. In comparison to the chaos in the rest of the house, the kitchen was pristine, as it was rarely used. According to Mike his mother had never used a pot, at least in the conventional sense. I think he enjoyed coming to our house because my mother loved to cook, our cupboards were always full, and immaculate, you could eat off her floor on any given day.
As the years passed we became the best of friends, siblings really. We fought like brothers and sisters will, and made up. Schemes were plotted and sentences enforced when things went wrong. I got used to having him around and came to like having a brother. At eighteen with the war in full swing in Viet Nam, my stepfather bought him a food truck. Mike threw himself enthusiastically into his new business, having a knack for cooking and natural head for numbers and promoting himself. With his name moving up the list to be called to service always lingering in the back of his mind, he was easy prey for the disciples of a religious cult building strength in numbers in the area. Before long they wrapped their beliefs around him as tightly as a boa constrictor might a gazelle. The food truck was found abandoned by the side of the street in Los Angeles one night. Searching for months we found him in a building outside of San Francisco. Our only contact was to speak to him from the sidewalk while he leaned out of a window on the third floor. The next time I heard from him I had two children and he was farming in New Zealand. After that the trail went cold. I often wonder where he is today. I’ve tried searching from time to time but without much luck. His name is in my birthday book, perhaps someday I’ll know where to send his card.
This burger was too juicy and yummy. I ate it right down to the ground.
Torta Burger with Picante Sauce
2 lbs. ground chuck
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
6 slices cheddar cheese
1 cup iceberg lettuce, chopped
1 large tomato, sliced
6 Bolillo Buns
Crumble meat in large bowl. Add Worcestershire sauce. Mix seasonings together and sprinkle over meat. Mix together with fingertips until well blended. Make into 6 oblong patties. Barbecue, broil or cook meat on stove top to desired cooking level. Add cheese at end to melt.
Slice buns in half and slather both cut sides with sauce. Top with meat, lettuce and tomato. Add garnishes as desired.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream
2 tsp. key lime juice
2 Tbsp. chopped green chiles
2/3 cup Pace Picante Sauce (I used hot)
Salt and pepper
Mix together all ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste.