Gook Gook

This is how my mother ruined dinner as a kid.

Lonnie ("Lavender Lonnie") my mother, grew up in Fort Lee, NJ.  When she was a young girl in the 1930's, her house had a large backyard with assorted  farm animals.  Chickens, roosters, goats, pigs, as well as successive cats and dogs.  My mother referred to this petting zoo as her playground.  She always loved animals, and still does.  In those days, this semi-agrarian way of life was common to many first generation Italian-Americans, and with the Depression, it made sense to feed yourself and live off the land as much as possible.

The difference in age between my mother, the baby, and her oldest sibling was 19 years.  In fact, Uncle Primo was already out of the house when my mother was born.  She did have one brother, Uncle Eddy, who was just a couple of years older than mom.  I thankfully was able to meet him once as a young boy, to understand how close he and mom were in spirit, and why it hurt her so much when he died so young a few years later.

Their age proximity formed a special bond between them, and they shared the playground/zoo in the back yard.  One chicken stood out among the many egg layers.  Gook Gook,  my mother named her, for the sound the chicken kept making in its unending query for food.  Gook Gook must have been a dog in a previous life, following Lonnie and Eddy around the yard even after feeling time, while all the others lost interest when their hands were empty.

After school one day, Lonnie and Eddy went into the back yard and discovered there was no Gook Gook.

They reported this to their father, who explained that, possibly, someone may have stolen Gook Gook.  The yard was next to the road, and in those desperate Depressive times, someone might do just that to survive.  Heartbroken, Lonnie and Eddy accepted their father's theory, and tried to attach themselves to another chicken.  There just wasn't another Gook Gook.

Their mother (see "Nana") was a great Florentine cook.  From the stories I've heard, it could have been her, and not Mama Leone, who opened a famous restaurant in New York City.  In fact she came to this country as a cook for a wealthy Italian family.  She didn't get sponsorship, and free passage to America by being a lousy cook.  My grandfather was a successful mechanic, having built a car for his wealthy patron to race in the early days of that industry.  He had the means to put food on the table, even in those hard times.

Sunday dinners, I've been told, went something like this.  Hot and cold antipasti, minestrone soup, risotto or pasta, poultry, followed by a meat roast, nuts and figs, sometimes dessert, then espresso.  Nana took great care to entertain family, friends, significant others, and potential in-laws.

The next Sunday dinner after Gook Gook went missing was going fine until the poultry offering was presented.

My mother said, "Eddy, that sure looks like Gook Gook, doesn't it?"

Nana reached over and twisted my mother's ear, and with a vice like grip on it, lead her out of the dining room.

Sunday dinner was effectively over because Papa didn't choose another chicken, and the rest of the family, in sympathy, lost their appetite.

The only thing Gook Gook did wrong was she stop laying eggs.

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