Stinky foods and cookies.

A very short word on Brussels Sprouts:  ICK.  My mom usually made these horrible excuses for a vegetable about twice a week.  I could smell them right away as I approached the house as I walked home from school.  Cabbage soup had nothing on these little balls of stinky cellulose.  The stench would reach out and mow down your nose hairs from a hundred feet away.  I would search frantically for one of my friends to see what they were having for dinner.  I would stop cars in the road and ask.  I was desperate to avoid having to even be in the same room as them.

Bowing to the inevitable, I would slice a micron or two off the side and attempt to force my hand to put the fork into my mouth.  My throat would inform my stomach it was on the way and it, in turn, would begin closing down shop.  My teeth would try valiantly to keep from opening, but usually yielded to a smack on the back of my head by either (or both) parents.  I would gag the bite into my mouth without it actually touching anything and hold it there for a couple of weeks.  Finally, I would work up the courage to swallow.  Once I did that, I would jump up from the table.  My dad would yell after me “if you spit that out in the bathroom, bring back ‘The Paddle’.  You DO remember The Paddle don’t you?

This performance would be repeated for another noxious weed called broccoli.  Broccoli is sneaky – it doesn’t have much of a smell as it cooks.  It is there, but very subtly.  I would sometimes get all the way to the table before discovering a pile of it on my plate.  If I was careful I could sneak a pound or two of it off my plate and down to the floor for the dog.  Problem was; we didn’t have a dog.

On the days we skipped ‘foods that parent’s love to torture kids with’ we had just a salad.  That can’t be too bad you say, how harmful could a salad be.  My mom’s salads were made with lettuce that had been left either in the sun for two days or on top of the radiator in the kitchen.  It was the limpest, rattiest, and most horrible leafed vegetable she could serve.  To add taste to this salad she would also make her world-famous dressing.  This was brewed up in the kitchen in a big bowl.  First in went the remains of several bottles of ketchup and chili sauce she had been saving for a month.  Then, she added a dash (liter) of vinegar, and a smidgen (scoop) of mayonnaise.  This would then be poured into an old enema bag and squirted over the limp lettuce.  My brother told me once that he could hear her cackling and chanting “eye of newt, tongue of lizard” and the like.  He may have been exaggerating but with him it can be hard to tell at times.  Who could refuse this tasty delight?  I sure as hell could.

The tale of lettuce continues with an opposite reaction.  On one of our many visits out to Southern California, we went to visit an aunt out in La Jolla (which, until I found out was actually pronounced “Lah Hoy-yah” would produce tolerant laughter).  She took us to lunch at a Mexican restaurant.  It was a good one and my aunt selected a Grande Taco for me.  My mom immediately jumped in with the fact that I would walk a mile on broken glass in bare feet than eat lettuce.  My aunt pooh-poohed the very idea and continued ordering.  I wasn’t clear on just what a ‘ta-co’ was.

When this absolutely huge taco appeared in front of me I was stunned.  It completely filled the plate and hung over each side.  Plus it was filled with my arch-enemy Mr. Lettuce.  I examined it from all sides and decided that with all the other things in it that I liked, the small percentage of lettuce wouldn’t be too bad.  I nibbled a little from one end, and did the same to the other.  As my bites began to get larger and larger, my mom’s mouth followed suit.  In very short time I had completely polished the entire taco and asked if I could have another.  At this point, my mom put her hand on my forehead to see if I was sick.

I had discovered that lettuce only tasted bad when it was warm.  Nice, crisp lettuce was wonderful.  When surrounded by all the beef, tomatoes, corn, and other goodies it was a real meal.  On my second taco, my aunt suggested some hot sauce.  Now, I’d had hot sauce once or twice before and nodded my approval for a dash or two.  This really enhanced the taste and I added just a little more.  This really got my mom’s attention as her food was normally completely flat in the taste department.  Her theory was that if you couldn’t cook the taste out of it, why bother.

She just shook her head as I gobbled my second taco.  From then on, any lettuce she served me had to be nice and cold and crispy or I wouldn’t eat it.  I still declined Brussels sprouts and broccoli politely; usually by feigning (maybe) a gag and slapping a hand over my mouth.  I thought it was funny as hell; she was not amused.

Living, as I did, within a service family we came almost in daily contact with kids from every race and ethnic background.  I never thought once about how the other kids differed from me – only that they had different skills and personalities than I did.  Up in Alaska my closest friend lived down the block and was an Inuit.  I had Asian friends as well.  We all played, tussled, and generally hung around like pals should.  But, this camaraderie only existed when we went visiting friends that lived on the base.  Social mixing did not exist outside those gates.

My parents bought their house in Prince Georges County of Maryland.  This is a county that, in the late fifties completely closed their schools rather than integrate.  It was because of this that I was briefly censured by my friends for inviting Donald home for dinner.  Donald was a Negro (or Black, African American or ‘please apply your current tag here’).  He and I were playing in my yard when a complete stranger drove by and slammed on his brakes.  He yelled something at my mother, who was sitting on the front stoop that really got her dander up.  I don’t think I’d ever seen her that mad.  She jumped up off the porch step, ran out into the street and actually kicked the side of the guy’s car.  Her (almost) exact words were: “You keep that kind of talk to yourself, buster!”  Donald and I looked at each other and tried to figure out what had happened but never did.

From that day onward, I think my mom went out of her way to piss the neighbors off.  At least it seemed that way to me.  The garbage truck would always stop at our house and she would happily fill up their water coolers with water and/or ice for those hard working men.  When the road crew came through widening and paving the road in front of the house, all the laborers would gravitate for lunch under our sweet gum tree.  In summer my dad never lacked help clearing our back yard of accumulated weeds and grass because, after we all completed the yard he would grill hot dogs and hamburgers for every one of us.

If only we could have looked fifty years into the future.  What an eye-opener that would have been for everyone.

It was this sort of thing that actually precipitated my first fight with the local bully.  He called me a horribly racist name and we began to rumble.  I got my ass handed to me because he was bigger, but I felt good about it.  From time to time he would sharpen his fighting skills by beating the crap out of me again.  Unfortunately, this usually took place on the way home from the school bus stop and Kathleen would stand off to watch me lose my stuffing.  She was always there, though, tending to my scrapes and bruises at her house before I got home.  I don’t think my parents ever knew what was happening until I took measures to end the fights.

If there were a contest for best cookie jar deterrent in the world my mom would win it hands down.  We had a fairly large crockery cookie jar that had a flat lit over the top.  This lid didn’t have a handle, but just let you lift from the sides.  After threatening, yelling, screaming, and bringing out The Paddle, we kids still hadn’t learned the meaning of the phrase ‘stay out of the cookie jar’.  This forced her to take drastic action.

The first deterrent consisted of a very shallow plate of marbles set on top.  This was easily defeated by placing a washcloth over them and lifting away.  The next attempt was a bit more devious, but still it was defeated.  Her third try had us stumped for quite a while.  She had put a little multiple-limbed metal tree that had bells hanging from each limb.  Extreme concentration (and a lot of time we couldn’t afford) had to be taken to avoid ringing the bells.  Sometimes it required the assistance of a sibling to help hold those cockamamie bells and keep them from ringing.

Her crowning glory was enhancing the metal tree by asking my dad to solder three more limbs in a tripod-shaped mechanism that held a very sensitive tube with two chimes in it.  This would be the contest-winning configuration.  We kids couldn’t even walk past it without setting off those damn bells.  Each time they went off she would hot foot it into the kitchen to see who the miscreant was – usually me as I had the longer reach – and smack me; or in some cases, all of us.

T.O.M

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2 Responses to “Stinky foods and cookies.”

  1. Davis Says:

    Don’t give up. I too hated them as a kid, but when I found some good ones that were well cooked, I loved them. Just wait til adulthood if you have to

  2. tom1950 Says:

    Well, I’m over 65 years old now and I still don’t like them. Guess I’d better wait some more… ;<)

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