NO, THOUSANDS OF MEATBALLS!
December 11, along with dozens of other volunteers, I made hundreds of Mexican meatballs — albóndigas — to celebrate the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe at her shrine located in the Tortugas Pueblo, in Las Cruces, NM.
Some of you may wonder, “Why is this Jewish woman making meatballs for a Mexican Catholic holiday?” Here is my response, “Why not?”
As a folklorist rituals are one of my passions, and I prefer to participate rather than just watch. As long as the ritual is for a positive purpose, count me in. Consequently, I accompanied my comadre, Denise Chávez, who was the cultural leader for a tour of Colorado seniors. She wanted them to experience this annual event from a personal point of view, so there we sat for hours making this annual treat that would be served the following day to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe and her followers. As we rolled the ground beef and chatted, a meatball captain patrolled up and down the aisles to ensure the unwritten rules about the size of the meatballs — that they were not too big. If so, he tossed them back into the pot to be re-sized downward.
On December 12, the actual feast day, we returned to the Pueblo to sample our handiwork. There were hundreds of noon-time diners, two shifts worth. The meatballs were served in their own juice inside a stainless steel bowl. For each eight persons, we shared a bowl of meatballs plus three other stainless steel bowls containing macaroni and cheese, boiled pinto beans, and red chili beef stew. Each place setting had a paper soup bowl with only a soup spoon and napkin by its side. Servers also distributed big chunks of homemade white bread. What a fabulous meal!
I almost always have a tune going through my head, and while anticipating this meatball adventure, I couldn’t get that old song, ♪♪♪ “One Meatball” ♪♪♪ out of my system. I asked several people if they knew it and was surprised when most didn’t. George Martin Lane wrote it in 1885 and titled it, “The Lone Fish Ball.” In 1944, Hy Zanet and Lou Singer revitalized and modernized the song renaming it, “One Meatball.” Many singers popularized it including Dave Van Ronk, Josh White, Bing Crosby, and the Andrews Sisters. What’s surprising is that despite the song being popular in the 1940s, the lyrics seem more fitted to the Depression. The song describes a hungry man with only 15 cents in his pocket. He enters a restaurant, studies the menu and discovers that all he can afford is one meatball. When he asks the waiter for a slice of bread, the waiter embarrasses the diner by retorting harshly, “You get no bread with one meatball!”
If that same man had been at the Tortugas Pueblo on December 12, he would have gotten more than one meatball plus not a slice but at least one chunk of bread.
Norine Dresser is a folklorist who enjoys participating in rituals of all kinds.