My brothers were smart, they knew not to bring girls they dated home. The few times they did, Mom would be nice, unless the girl happened to touch them. Holding hands, snuggling, or showing any kind of affection meant she was a puttana and would never do for her sons. She never remembered names, only referring to them as, “datta gal,” as in, “Tella datta gal to eatta sommating, she’s a too skeeney.”
So, if a girl came home, you knew it was serious.
Thanksgiving was the first time my brother, Bob brought home the girl he eventually married. My mom liked her right away. Patty was pretty and fun-loving with perfect, long straight blonde hair. Mom took one look at her as she walked in the kitchen and said, “Oh she’s a cute anna she hassa a such a nize a lilla legs!”
But there was a downside to my mother liking you. Once she liked and trusted you, you became her assistant.
Patty showed up on Thanksgiving; a day after Mom received something from a mail order company she didn’t like and wanted to return. And since her “dorty rotten skongs offa kids” didn’t want to write any more letters for her, she needed an assistant.
She was clearing away the food and wiping down the ever-present, clear, plastic tablecloth cover (a necessity due to continual eating) and sweetly, casually said to unsuspecting Patty, “Patty honey, you ting after dinner you canna wride a for me a letter?” My sister and I both cringed, knowing what was coming.
Mail order was more a vocation for my mom than a convenience. It satisfied her love of contests, shopping, spending money, receiving packages and getting attention, all at once. Like force-feeding, mail ordering came naturally to her, and the people at the United States Purchasing Exchange, Lillian Vernon, Lane Bryant and Spiegel (among others) knew it.
Her mail order habit started with her ordering clothes, but escalated when catalog companies began sending her “important letters.”
Dear Mrs. Mary Tommo,
You are our special winner! (Even though they rarely got her name right, she was immediately sucked in.)
Just order three items from our catalog and you’ll automatically be entered in our Million Dollar Contest! Yes, Mary Tommo, you could be the lucky winner of One Million Dollars!
That simple letter was all it took. “Butta Frenzy, honey, why wood a dese a people wride a me dissa letter and tella me dis eeffa dey don’d a ting I have a chenze a to ween?” she naively asked. I tried to tell her about sales, profits, trickery and greed, but she was certain she was destined to be a millionaire and would hear none of it.
She saw things in catalogs and ordered them so she could be in the contest, rarely checking their dimensions, then got angry because it looked bigger in the picture. She’d say, “Dis a stoff looked a so nize inna da book, and when I get id ittsa nading but a cheap a plastic.
Since I was the youngest and most likely to be home, I was her reluctant scribe.
She’d explode with, “Da hell wid it! Frenzy! Send itta back witta note a datta says, I don’d wanna dissa shit!”
Knowing a little something about a proper business letter, I felt her approach lacked subtlety. I tried reasonably explaining that, usually, she got exactly what she ordered, which really ticked her off.
So, I sat transcribing a reasonable sounding letter while she dictated a blistering tirade. She’d yell, “Okay, Frenzy, you wride a for me dissa letter:
You dorty rotten skongs, (Dear Sirs:)
Imma pooty damn angry about a dissa lousy jong a you have send a me yesterday.
(I received your merchandise yesterday and unfortunately it’s not what I had in mind.)
I am a sending all a dis jong a back, you gypped a me and I wanna alla my money back a rite a now.
(Enclosed, please find the merchandise I’m returning and please credit my account for the returned items.)
Go take a shit.
Mrs. Mary Tunno
I had to translate from angry to civilized, and do it fast, because once she was on a roll, she was unstoppable. She’d be done yelling and I’d still be on, “you gypped a me.” Irritated, she’d say, ”Frenzy, can’d a you write aney faster?”
There were times when none of us were around and she wrote the letters herself. I can imagine the people at the mail order companies saying, “Hey everybody, take a break, we just got a letter from Mary Tunno, it’s a classic! The entertainment value probably made it tempting to sabotage her order just to get a handwritten masterpiece.
We tried to steer poor Patty away from Mom once we realized what she was up to, but it was too late. “You kids a shut uppa, eef a Patty wands a help a me, let her helppa.” My brothers, like good Italian males, were probably asleep on the living room couches, leaving a wife and a date defenseless. My sister and I slipped away and gave our thanks that mom had a new victim. At least Patty knew what she was in for when she married into the family.
With Thanksgiving only two weeks away, I am so grateful for you, my readers. Your responses make my day, I hope my stories brighten yours half as much. I’m also grateful for my family, my friends and the new friends I’ve made through this blog. (I’m also still thankful for Lilla Patty, who remains incredibly patient and still has “nize a lilla legs.”)
Here’s Mom’s turkey stuffing recipe I promised last week.
Mom’s Ground Meat Turkey Stuffing
1 lb ground beef
5 slices of white bread, cut into cubes
1 1/4 cup milk
1 cup onion diced
½ cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 1/2 cups chopped mushrooms sautéed in 1 tsp.olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Saute the onion in a pan with the ground meat. Take the bread and cut it into cubes. Place it in a medium sauce pan. Pour the milk in with the bread, heat it over medium heat and stir until the break becomes almost creamy. Set aside. Place chopped onion and ground beef in frying pan and cook until beef cooks through. Drain grease and set aside.
In a separate pan, sauté mushrooms and olive oil until browned and add them to ground meat mixture. Add bread and milk mixture, then add chopped parsley, cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and mix well.