by Wendy Goddard
Essence of fresh ripe tomato and homemade sauce mingle with garlic- scented meat and rendered fat as I bite into tender, yet crisp, tortillas. Having mastered the art of slurping with each bite of taco, I avoid the rivulets of juice running down the wrists and forearms of family and neighbors during a dinner of Wyn’s Famous Texas Tacos. This remains the only meal in which the paper towel roll sits center table, elbows may perch beside plates, and tongues may lick fingers. As the daughter of an army officer and an army officer’s well-schooled-in-all-things-protocol wife, I remain devoted to table manners and table settings. Stacks of folded cotton napkins line buffet drawers, ready to set the table for every meal, adorning a color coordinated placemat or tablecloth, of course. The sterling silver flatware presents itself for use most weeknights and the bread basket waits.
But not on taco night. Throughout my childhood, tacos ruled as the most coveted dinner invitation in the neighborhood. Our mother cooked a lovely leg of lamb, an unctuous rib roast adorned with a mustard and herb crust and accompanied by golden Yorkshire puddings, a pot roast served up with buttery whipped potatoes so cloudlike in their china bowl I never knew if the moisture in our father’s eyes resulted from the rising steam or tears of food love. Tacos, however, claimed all the glory, inspiring debates about preparation techniques, garnishing rituals, and the gauntlet of gluttony: who would eat the most tacos tonight and break the family record?
Mom fried tacos under any conditions, a Sisyphean challenge at many of our Army postings, battling the mid-twentieth century frozen, canned, pre-packaged food wasteland. Before the explosion of Cal-Tex-New-Mex cuisine, before margarita-fueled two-for-one-taco-night cantinas, before food truck pods, street food carts and celebrity chefs, our mother, Wynelle, would strap on her ruffled apron and send my father in search of tortillas. During the brief periods we were home in Texas, Dad navigated dusty dirt roads on the far side of town, past the water tower and the tracks, scanning for that solitary woman or a cluster of mamacitas gathered around a wood-fueled fire in the yard. They sat rolling balls of masa between plump palms, flattening them between their knees, the slap slap of their thighs accompanied by the splat of tortillas thrown onto the hot flat stone. The roasted corn smell as it wafted off the rock remained a sensory food memory for both my parents, the one thing my mother craved during pregnancy, the scent of fresh tortillas honored and ritualized by my father after finishing his first taco at dinner: “Mmph,” he would snort, then sigh, then sniff, then pause. Then he would reach for another.
Tacos, gluttony knows thy name.
Categories: Sister Sirens