I grew up what you might call "lowly Orthodox" meaning we kept the meat and dairy dishes separate but ate the fish sandwich at McDonald's.
My mother, Harriet, had her own special brand of Jewish. I called it "Reader's Digest kosher." For those old enough to remember Reader's Digest, that is.
For instance, according to Kashrut, (the laws of kosher), if you accidentally use the meat fork in, say, a bowl of cottage cheese, you are supposed to bury it in the dirt for six weeks. (Or is it six months? I always forget.)
The first dozen or so times this happened in my house, when my sister, brother, or I made the boo boo, we were sent out back to bury the sullied silverware. The problem was, nobody thought to mark the grave. The grass would grow. My father, Marty, would mow the grass. The grass would grow again, and the offending flatware would simply be forgotten. I imagine in a few hundred years, interstellar anthropologists will dig up our back yard, scratch their heads, or um, horns, and say, "I wonder why man in the 1970s buried his eating utensils?
Mom switched to plan B; the plants.
In what was supposed to be our dining room, Mom set up a slew of metal folding tables pressed against the walls on which she piled a humongous amount of items she had anointed as "useful," but we called "CRAP." Items such as: a mountain of mix-and-match coffee cups with bank logos on an island of plastic placemats advertising a defunct real estate company. The requirement for the countless items piled on the tables was not that they would ever really be useful, but that they had been FREE.
To camouflage the fact that our dining room had become the Hoarding Hotel, Mom hung spider plants from the ceiling and shoved potted rubber plants in the corners. Mom got the plants free, too.
One day around 1975, when I had accidentally spread mustard from a (free) Burger King packet onto my waiting cheese sandwich with the meat knife, mom screamed, "Stab it in the plant!"
I walked into the Hoarding Hotel lobby to bury the knife, but my sister and brother had gotten there first, and often! The plants each had a fortress of flatware! I found an inch of open dirt in the rubber plant next to the pile of "Virginia is for Lovers" bumper stickers.
The problem was, as the plants kept growing, some of them took the silverware along for the ride - not the spindly spider plants, but the thick rubber plants. They would grow up out of that dirt and bring an impaled fork or knife with them.
I didn't feel badly for the plants, partly because I was 11 and was more concerned with surviving my badly behaved family and partly because I always hated rubber plants and spider plants. I mean what was their purpose? They were not pretty. They did not have a smell. They did not produce a flower or edible offering. What the hell was a rubber plant, anyway? No wonder they were free!
On rare occasions, I would bring a friend home from school and walk them through Hoarding Hotel, although it began to look more like the Hoarding Hotel House of Horrors. It was pretty hard to explain all the impaled plants, harder still to explain the five-year supply of Lucky Charms piled like the Empire State Building on the back table. Mom had found a coupon in a free newspaper for free Lucky Charms and naturally grabbed about a hundred of them.
You would think there would come a ceremonious moment when the silverware would be expunged from the plants but the problem was no one could remember which fork was stabbed yesterday and which was from a year ago, so we just let them be. Mom got a slew of FREE flatware from a new bank, anyway.
One day Mom absconded with a pile of COUPONS for FREE Big Macs at McDonald's.
My siblings and I had been enamored with the Big Mac advertising campaign that had everyone singing as fast as humanly possible the ingredients of the Big Mac: "two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onion on a sesame seed bun!" But of course like a lot of really cool things we would have loved to try, that door was closed to us because of the kosher thing.
How Mom got the mac daddy pile of coupons, like a lot of mysteries surrounding my mother, I will never know. But after school my sister, brother and I were taken to McDonalds.
We assumed we were going for the aforementioned fish sandwich, but then she fanned those Big Mac coupons before us like they were a million dollars!
It was one per customer, so Mom couldn't get up and order 4 of them.
We each had to go the counter one at a time and make this announcement.
"I want a Big Mac with everything on it, special sauce, lettuce, cheese pickles, onion and tomato please ... but hold the meat."
The first time I ordered this, a humorless African-American cashier screamed back at me and into the microphone, "Say Whattttttttttt!!!"
I just about crawled to my table.
We sat down to eat what amounted to a saucy lettuce, cheese and tomato sandwich. I'm not sure how nutritious this was, but to a bunch of kosher-household kids, it sure was tasty.
Back then, a Big Mac was only about 65 cents. But 65 cents went a lot further in 1975 than it does now. Four free Big Macs saved my mom two dollars and 60 cents, which helped stretch my dad's schoolteacher paycheck all the way to Mars.
Were the tomatoes cut with the same slicer that also touched meat? Mom didn't know and didn't want to know. She had a "don't ask, don't tell" policy about kosher. As long as she did not know, she could assume the tomatoes were kept vegetarian and were kosher.
The trick to Mom's "don't ask, don't tell" kosher was that your food had to first be blessed by the angel of FREE!
If Mom's coupons had been rejected those meatless Macs would have been un-kosher in less time that it takes to say, "TREIF!"
Now, excuse me while I go out to the herb garden and grab the meat knife.