10/24/2011 12:38 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2011

Steve Bergsman's 'Growing Up Levittown': 'Spaghetti And Jam,' An Excerpt

(An excerpt from Growing Up Levittown by Steve Bergsman)

A multitude of uniform, unidentifiable houses, lined up inflexibly, at uniform distances on uniform roads, in a treeless common waste, inhabited by people of the same class, the same incomes, the same age group, witnessing the same television performances, eating the same tasteless prefabricated food, from the same freezers, forming in every outward and inward respect to a common mold manufactured in the same central metropolis.

Mumford wrote those words in 1961. I was 12 years old at the time and in Levittown landscaping had already grown in and many homes remodeled. To me, every home appeared unique. My friend’s families were different; we drove different cars; our parents had different jobs; we ate different foods.

The food issue surfaced most dramatically one day when I was invited to eat lunch at my friend’s Tom T’s home right about my 11th or 12th year. His family was ethnic Italian and one afternoon after a morning of play, his mother whipped up a lunch meal of spaghetti noodles (now called pasta, but who knew the word back then) covered in butter and cheese. I couldn’t eat it. The look of the butter melting over the noodles, the redolence of the cheeses appalled my senses. Up until that point in my young life, my entire experience with Italian food, other than pizza, was spaghetti, which was only to be covered by tomato sauce.

Now, my mother wasn’t a great cook. Dinner most every night consisted of a meat dish, potatoes and canned vegetables, all of which was followed by a dessert of canned fruit. However, she was a good baker and would make such delicacies as hamantaschen. These dessert treats usually held sweet prune fillings that came from a spread called lekvar. Sometimes as a real treat for me, she would cook up a bowl of egg noodles and put the lekvar over it, which I just loved. The dish didn’t seem weird, because my mom also used to make a wonderful noodle koogle (kugle), sweetened by fruits and fruit juice.

So there I was at my friend’s house, staring down at my pasta, which I couldn’t eat. My friend’s mother realized something was wrong and asked how I usually ate spaghetti, other than with tomato sauce. The only thing I could think of was the noodles and the lekvar, but somehow my mumbling response was muddled and my friend’s mother gave me a fresh plate of pasta and grape jelly to put over it. With everyone in my friend’s family staring at me, I felt boxed in. Reluctantly, I put the jelly on the pasta and ate it, thus becoming an instant urban legend: the crazed child who put jam on his spaghetti thus offending every Italian on Long Island.