Snips and snails, and puppy dog tails,
        and such are little boys made of,

      Sugar and spice and all things nice,
         that’s what little girls are made of…

       It was at dinner that same night, when it struck Matty… Two girls, the fireman had said… Two girls… Who in the heck would do something so dangerous?? And how did they come into the neighborhood unnoticed??

      “Huh?? Did you say something mom??”
      “Where were you? I asked you three times already to tuck the napkin in, under DJ’s chin! I have enough wash to do, without worrying about getting spaghetti sauce out of your brother’s shirt!”
      “Oh, right… OK…” The blond boy took the thin napkin with the flowery print, and unfolded it once, then looking at the futility of it, got up from his bench seat at the picnic style table and went to the nearby bathroom and retrieved a dismal looking bath towel, complete with holes and faded stains from past ‘little boy meals’, and tucked it tenderly under the tow headed boy’s shirt collar… “There you go little monkey! Let’s see you get sauce on your shirt now!”
        Little DJ leaned his head back and grinned up at his big brother and spoke a sentence that only he and Matty seemed to comprehend. Matty patted him on the top of his head and tousled his hair.
       “What did he say, Matty?” Lucy inquired.
       “Oh, not much… He just said he likes spaghetti!! Right, DJ?”
       The 3 year old nodded and giggled, and leaned over to Matty and kissed him on the arm…

        “OOOOHH!! Gross! Baby kiss, Baby kiss!! ” Matty said laughingly. It was all part of the game, and soon, the little boy was laughing and bobbing in the high chair that was placed by the end of the table, near the washing machine in the corner of the kitchen. Matty grabbed his flailing hand and pretended to bite it, which brought a squeal of delight from the little tyke, and soon the din in the combination kitchen and dining room was reaching the danger point…
         “OK, OK… that’s enough!!” Mom said, trying to hide an obvious smile. “Matty, I told you not to get him so worked up at the dinner table! If he gets too wound up, it might upset his tummy… Especially after all the excitement today…”
         “Aww Mom, he’ll be OK! He’s one of the boys now… We have to make him tough and turn him into a spaghetti eating machine like me and Gerry…Right, DJ?” Matty tickled the 3 year old on his pudgy belly and the racket started anew. Even ‘Tricksee’, the family tiger cat, joined in with a ‘meow’ or two and then leaped up onto the bench near Matty and DJ, much to the little boy’s delight, and Mom’s horror!
        “MATTY! Get that cat away from the food! Put him outside! You know he’s not allowed to be that close to our meal!”
        “OK, OK, but, you know why he jumps up like that… he just loves your spaghetti!! It’s the best in the whole town, and, he’s a cat of exquisite taste!”
        Mom just muttered something about the strange compliment and not being sure if her spaghetti sauce was meant for cats, as Matty picked up the huge brown and black striped tiger and hoisted him through the open kitchen door and the screen door behind it.  Tricksee wasn’t happy, but had given up on expressing his displeasure with Matty, some time back, after his impulsive nip had been returned immediately by the blond boy on the top of his paw. He hadn’t liked it one bit, but understood his place in the pecking order of the family… He was not allowed to scratch DJ or bite Matty, and he messed with Mom at the peril of his furry butt…He had tattered ears and a torn lip from his many encounters with the local feline and canine population, after all, this was HIS home, which he defended tooth and claw, but, he also understood what was expected of him in this large family of complex personalities…
        Matty returned to the table as the family grew silent for the Lord’s prayer, recited this time by Matty’s sister, Lucy, who seemed strangely quiet at the prospect of the simple chore. But, it was soon time to partake of the steaming feast! A huge porcelain bowel of cooked spaghetti sat in the center of the table and was now being dispersed to the numerous plates… Pop got the biggest portion, but Matty was similarly blessed because of his rapidly growing physique, followed by his younger brother Gerry who was always in competition with his big brother, and claiming to be able to out eat him, was his latest boast…

       This, of course, would not stand, so the oldest boy had secured a bet with his younger brother, unbeknownst to anyone but the two, and now, as the delicious sauce and meatballs was added to the top of each portion, Matty caught his brother’s eye, and signaled the start of the competition, that would someday become known as the ‘Great Spaghetti War’….
         It all started out innocently enough, as the 1st delicious portion of Mom’s incredible feast was devoured and the boys clamored for seconds… Mom always made a lot, when it came to dinner, and lately, Matty had noticed that the family was consuming lots of pasta- spaghetti with meatballs, fettuccine with pineapple and kielbasa and peppers, ziti and vegetables in a light oil dressing… Some of the kids had started to grumble a bit, even tho the meals were delicious and creative. Pop had gotten a little quiet too, and, the 14 year old boy sensed a growing anxiety around the sparse construction work and the pending college plans of the oldest girl in the family. So, when the younger kids started to complain, Matty would use the ‘elbow and stare’ technique that he had perfected years before. Starting with the nearest culprit and passed around the table like a wave in a baseball game, it took very little time to quell the unrest, just a little jab, or kick under the kitchen table, and a look…
         Around the time that the two brothers had annihilated their second servings, most of the kids were long since full, and the table was being cleared and dishes were being scraped and hand washed by the older girls. Matty usually helped, but tonight, stayed in his place and looked menacingly across his empty plate at Gerry who was trying to finish the last of the sauce laden noodles on his plate.
         Pop sat at the end of the table, gazing out the kitchen window, contemplating something that fell outside the domain of the children…
         “Wow! That was delicious, Mom! Best ever! I could eat your spaghetti all night!” Matty smiled and looked directly into Gerry’s widening eyes.
         “I’m glad you liked it, Matty… Would you like some more? There’s a little left…”
         “Sure!! Wow! That would be great! I’ll bet Gerry could do with some more, too! Right, Gerry?”
         The younger boy looked confidently at Matty and snickered. “Are you kidding? I could eat another big dish full !”
          “Really!! Wow. You really must be growing! I thought you had as much as you could eat!” Matty replied.
          “Naw! If you have some more, I’ll have some too.” Gerry grinned bravely.
          Mom was tired but went to the big colander on the giant white stove. “Uh oh, there’s not too much here… Are you boy’s sure you’re still hungry?”
          “Oh, it’s OK, mom… If there isn’t enough, I’ll be all right…”
          Gerry seemed relieved.
           “Well, I suppose I could cook some more, if you boys really want some… I made extra sauce already, so, it’ll only take about 10 or 15 minutes to get the spaghetti cooked…”
           “Sure!! That would be GREAT! Matty replied… “I don’t know what’s wrong with me tonight, but, I feel like I could eat a horse!” He looked at Gerry. “What about you, little bro?”
            Gerry winced, but smiled… “Yeah, me too!”
           “Hey, wait a minute… Didn’t you boys already have two huge plates? You couldn’t possibly be starved!” Pop opined…
           Mom glanced sternly at her husband. “If the boys are hungry they obviously need to eat… I’ll make some more!”
            Pop started to object, but, Mom had her own set of signals and he took one look at her and stopped… “Well, as long as they eat what you put on their plates… we can’t afford…”
            Mom interrupted him sharply. “In MY kitchen, the children will NEVER leave the table hungry!”
            That was quite enough for pop, and he arose and retreated to the relative safety of the living room, where the daily newspaper waited.
            Matty cleaned little DJ’s face with the back side of the makeshift bib, and released him  from his high chair jail. Then, he handed him something and closed his tiny hand around it and whispered something in the 3 year- old’s ear, that elicited a broad grin from the tyke. Leaning over, he  patted him on the butt, sending him on his mission. The ‘little monkey’ scurried off, down the hallway that led to the living room…
           “What did you tell him?” Gerry asked in a low voice.
           “Wait a second, and you’ll see…” Matty laughed quietly.
            It took about 20 seconds, and suddenly a yelp sounded from the other room, followed by the joyful laugh of a little boy.
            “Why you little monkey!! Where did you get that ice cube? Right down my back!! Huh?? Come here and give me a hug, DJ… OK… There you go… Up!  Ahh…You’re getting so heavy!! Someday soon, you won’t be sitting in my lap anymore…” Pop’s voice trailed off… Matty heard the tell tale creaking of pop’s big red chair as it rocked, slowly, back and forth…

            Well, folks, it took about 15 minutes to bring that cast iron pot and water up to temperature and cook the Meuller’s spaghetti– the entire pound from that new box.

            “I hope you boy’s are hungry… I hate wasting hot water so I cooked the whole pound! Well, if you can’t finish this, I’ll put it away for tomorrow. At least there should be enough to fill those hollow legs you both seem to have developed!” Mom brought the new bowl of steaming pasta to the table and placed it between the two brothers.
             “Oh boy!! This looks great, Mom! I’ll bet I could eat the whole bowl myself! But, fair is fair… Maybe we should split it right down the middle.. I wouldn’t want to hog the whole thing!” Matty looked across the table at Gerry, who suddenly seemed a little ashen, but, quickly shrugged it off as the hot noodles filled the plates and the sauce and grated cheese garnished the top of each huge serving.
              “Well, dig in, Gerry! We wouldn’t want everything to get cold!” Matty spun his fork into the great mound of glistening pasta and  took the huge ball into his mouth, laughing at the bug- eyed look from his younger brother.
              Not to be outdone, Gerry somewhat reluctantly dug into his own generous serving and put the delicious strands into his mouth, loudly slurping up the stragglers.  He smiled bravely across the checkered table cloth, and bobbed his head in agreement.
              And so it went, tit for tat, as the portions slowly melted away and mom scurried in and out of the kitchen directing the older girls in the final chores of the day, from removing the dried laundry that hung on the outside clothesline, to unstacking the dried dishes from the sink side dish caddy, and returning them to the wooden cupboard with the black, wrought iron hinges…

              About halfway through this huge portion, Gerry seemed to stagger, and then kind of grimaced and gagged a bit… Matty looked up from his sauce- covered plate and winked at his younger brother who appeared to be choking back the last bite… He also looked as if he had swallowed something very large… Matty imagined an exotic snake, perhaps an anaconda, trying to consume a large piece of prey, or Gerry’s friend, Danny, who had run around the back yard last summer after a family barbeque with a whole ice cream cone jammed into his mouth, until Matty’s dad stopped him and lectured him on the dangers of choking. Gerry now had that overstuffed, ready to burp look about him, which he did, suddenly, and without intent…
           “Holy cow!! That was a good one! Sounds like you needed that! ” Matty laughed.
           Mom came into the kitchen with a basket of folded laundry at that very moment… “Matty!! Don’t encourage him! That’s disgraceful! We don’t condone rude behavior at the dinner table, you know that!”
           “Sorry.. He just took me by surprise… Besides, it’s just the two of us…”
           “Now, you know that that’s no excuse! The dinner table is the dinner table! Gerry, say ‘excuse me’ at least!”
            “‘Scuse me”, the boy muttered.
             Gerry looked across the table at his big brother, as Matty took another huge ‘twirl’ of pasta into his mouth and grinned at him…
              “Mom…. I think I ate enough now”, the 11 year old muttered…
              Matty swallowed and said, “Huh? You’re done? So soon? Gee, Gerry, there’s still some left on your dish… And, that means you’re wasting what you had mom give you! Wow, I think you should finish what you started!”
               Now Gerry had a very strange, almost pained expression on his face, which was devolving into a glazed- over look in his eyes…
               “Uh… ohh… uh… I … really…can’t …eat…. anymore… you win. I need to lay down.”
               The blond haired adolescent struggled to his feet. Matty looked at him and giggled. He looked pregnant!
               Suddenly tho, mom focused in on what the boy had said… “What do you mean, ‘you won’?” She looked suspiciously at Matty who was trying to contain a laugh and was feeling quite jubilant.
               “Uh… nothin’…” Gerry shuffled away, and rounded the corner to the stairs that led to the bedroom that the two older boys shared.
               “Matty!! What did he mean? ‘You won?’ “
               “Uh, nothing much, I guess… not sure… uh, hey, this was one great meal tonight mom!!  Really!! “
                “Well, I’m glad you enjoyed it, because I expect you to finish what I put on your plate, and, what I put on your brother’s plate as well! You don’t really think that I can’t figure out what you two are up to, after that remark!!”Then she leaned close and whispered, “You know how hard your father works to feed the family… Now, you’re making me look bad, especially after what I said to him… I expect you to eat what I served you boys so that nothing goes to waste!”
                Now Matty was starting to feel a little sick to his stomach. There was still a considerable amount of spaghetti left to consume, if he became responsible for BOTH plates!!
                The door between the living room and the kitchen creaked open at that moment. Pop stood there looking a little put off…
                 “What’s going on in here? Did I hear that right? Was this all about some kind of competition, or something?”

                 That question became rhetorical…

                  From the direction of the upstairs bedroom came an awful groan… Followed by another, and then, a whimper…
                  Pop had heard enough! As mom raised her arm to point him into action, he had already vaulted through the  door, and up the first few stairs to the bedroom with the new area rug purchased from Sears, on sale, for $35…  A hard earned $35…
                  Matty froze, his fork in mid air. Everything seemed to be in slow motion now, as the desperate father negotiated the staircase, two giant steps at a time… Matty heard him  say something that still resonates like it was yesterday… “Don’t you dare!!” Then, the frantic footsteps, shuffling overhead, and suddenly the most horrible sound, quite inhuman, wafted from that newly furbished bedroom. It sounded like something halfway between a roar and a groan, and then the sound of huge quantities of mom’s spaghetti  and meatballs, pelting off the walls and floor above his head.
                  “Oh my God!!” yelled Mom. “Get him out of there, and into the bathroom!”
                  “I’m trying… What do you think I’m doing?? I’m trying!!”
                   Then, the sound of footsteps… desperate, scrambling footsteps… The sound of an adult, half carrying a large child down the stairs…
                   More groaning… belching… roaring… Then the door between the kitchen and living room crashed open, and Matty’s dad dashed through, carrying Gerry. It was not, in retrospect, the best plan. They made it only two steps and the 11 year old erupted again, this time, spewing another huge quantity of half digested matter across the entire kitchen table, refilling portions of both boy’s nearly empty plates.
                   “Gross!!!!” Matty had seen enough. He jumped up, just in time to avoid the next barrage of boy puke. He almost knocked his mother off her feet, colliding with her as she tried to get around him, in a futile attempt to minimize the collateral damage. It was way too late!!

                    To this day, I have witnessed NOTHING close to it….

                    Green about the gills, Matty dashed out the kitchen door, his belly bulging from his thin frame. He felt sick from the sight of the whole episode, but, still harbored a guilty satisfaction from the tarnished victory… The 14 year old boy reached the back yard and stopped, shuddering and trying to erase the visual of his brother’s escapade. He stood, doubled over, with his hands on his knees for a few minutes, until the wave of nausea passed. Then, he stood up and wiped the sweat from his brow. Slowly, his eyes refocused. ‘Oh my God’, he thought. ‘That was really nuts!’


       It was then that he noticed the two girls huddled together in the corner of the yard, by the giant Weeping Willow tree… Sister Lucy and cousin Gail. Commiserating about something… very quietly. Almost secretly….

      Continued in part 9….