There were a lot of things that could make my mom proud of her "Kindelach:" (my sister, brother and myself), great report cards, a clean bedroom "every once in a blue moon," but the thing that really sent her into fits of joy was pushing us to further and further levels of just how far we could stretch our stomachs.
She had a "short list" of the best places to do it.
The Ground Round restaurant met all of my mom's requirements for "our kinda restaurant."
My sister, brother and I delighted in swishing our feet thru the peanut shells that filled the floor and contributing to the ankle-deep mess by gorging from huge barrels of peel-your-own peanuts. We felt like real grown-ups chugging back root beer from frosty mugs, and the Ground Round even had live bands. Not just some 80-year-old guitar picker wedged in the corner like a Xmas ornament but rock and country bands that made us feel as though we were having a real night on the town like city folks, even if we were in South Jersey.
The very fact that we could order our meals from the table and not from the cashier put the Ground Round a steep step above the other eateries my family frequented.
But Mom didn't give a hoot about the music, root beer and peanuts. She had tunnel vision for one thing and one thing only; the Wednesday night all-you-can-eat fish fry.
Mom would start starving us at 3 o'clock in preparation for getting her money's worth. We'd come home from school, famished as usual, and soon as we reached for the fridge, she'd shriek, "Save yourself for the flounder!"
By the time we hit the Ground Round at 6:30, we were so hungry, we were biting air.
"Two adult all-you-can-eat fish fries and three kiddies!" Mom would scream at the waitress before she could even open her mouth.
The flounder would arrive heavily breaded, with a mess of fries. But as we reached for the fries, Mom would scream, "Save yourself for the fish!"
She frowned on wasting precious gastric real estate on the cheap stuff, but to be able to devour more then one basket of fried fish, you needed the fries, not to mention a whole lot of ketchup.
My record was three baskets, two filets per basket.
I'm fairly sure my dad made it to five, although he ran to the bathroom after, which in my mind is a disqualification.
The rule was simple, you could not stop eating until you were in excruciating pain. At that point, Mom would pull out a handful of plastic bags and quickly dump the fish into the bags, the bags into her purse while the waiter was not looking.
I'm all grown up now and love being able to say things like "thank you no," when offered seconds.
I go to the gym three times a week, try to walk everyday, eat fresh vegetables and avoid anything fried. I care about little things like fitting into my jeans.
But at a recent hotel stay that offered a complimentary all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, I have to admit after having seconds, I left the table with two apples, 1 banana, a jar of jelly and a container of yogurt tucked inside my bag.
I could feel my mother smiling.