On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese
I lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed
It rolled off the table and onto the floor
And then my poor meatball rolled out of the door…
Tom Glazer — “On Top of Spaghetti”
When I was a kid and apparently had far less to occupy my time than kids do today, I used to sing aloud that fanciful ditty from the 1960s – sung to the tune of On Top Of Old Smokey — about a mountain of spaghetti and a wayward, sneeze-propelled meatball. What a great song that was, full of the groovy goofiness that defined The Sixties. For a young whippersnapper like me, The Sixties is a historical period, practically ancient times. But for many of you old-fogie flower children, it’s a time you remember fondly. Well, at least those of you who still have functioning memories remember it fondly. The rest of you are busy searching for your lost meatball.
Being a very curious child prone to over-analyzing things, I spent a great deal of time puzzling over the logistics of the “On Top of Spaghetti” song. How could a sneeze be powerful enough to knock a meatball off its pasta perch and send it all the way out the door, I wondered? And why had I never seen one of the trees described in the song, growing meatballs and tomato sauce? (I said I was a curious child. I didn’t say I was a smart one.)
With the passage of time and my discovery of television, I gave up singing that song and pondering those timeless questions, and I devoted myself to more worthy pursuits like figuring out how to meet and marry the Fonz. The spaghetti song was forgotten. But apparently, it remained somewhere deep in my neural synapses (that’s a part of my brain, for you aging hippies who perhaps indulged too heavily in the power of the flower). And when my son was a crying infant, and I was desperate to soothe him, the song reappeared one day out of nowhere, springing out of my mouth like a mushy meatball springing out of the ground and growing into a tree. Er, yeah.
Anyway, it worked wonders on my son. Whenever I sang it, he would stop crying and gaze at me in rapt attention. Actually, he was probably just too stunned by his poor genetic luck at being born to such a strange woman to continue crying, but at the time, I credited the song and my wonderfully energetic way of singing it. When my daughter came along, I sang it to her too. And when they got a little older, while they were still innocent and thought that I was the greatest thing since sliced bread, my kids would sing with me. We all laughed uproariously at the mental picture we each created of the stupendous sneeze and the miraculous meatball. Those were good times.
Unfortunately, my kids kept growing and lost interest in cheesy melodies about meatballs. Eventually, they turned into teenagers who listen to jarring noise they define as music that no one over 30 can bear to hear. The spaghetti song once again burrowed its way down into my memory banks, becoming a moss-covered relic of the past.
Until the other day, that is, when I was taking care of my neighbor’s baby boy. It’s been a while since I had to entertain a baby, but I guess it’s like riding a bike. It always stays with you. The baby started to cry, and before I knew it, I was once again singing the song.
“On top of spaghetti,” I warbled, “all covered with cheese…”
The baby stopped crying and looked at me in amazement. My own kids covered their ears as if in pain.
“Mom!” they protested. “What are you doing?”
“Don’t you remember me singing this song with you?” I asked them, crestfallen that they didn’t seem to recall those happy days. “You used to love it.”
My daughter tossed her head in disgust, the way only a teenage girl can. “There is absolutely no way,” she said, “that I ever liked a song as stupid as that.”
Saucy kid. I may have to go sneeze in her spaghetti.