Mouths Wide Shut … Unless You’ve Got A Hot French Fry Handy

All memory is faulty, so I’m sure I didn’t really eat only french fries as a child … but it sure seems like I did.  Mashed potatoes (my daughter’s favorite) are just a waste of a good fry, in my humble opinion.  And while I do like a good baked potato with a steak or, now, even on its own, there’s still part of me that regrets even as I’m enjoying it that it’s been baked and not cut up and fried.  I definitely qualify to write about today’s Daily Prompt, on picky eaters.

Endless French Fries

Endless French Fries

I’d order a hamburger but eat only the fries.  I skipped breakfast, and I had a sandwich and chips for lunch at school, but dinner almost every night featured crispy, hot, home-made French Fries.  I didn’t like pizza, or Mexican food, or Chinese food, or pretty much anything else and frankly I wasn’t exposed to many types of food growing up in a small East Texas town where it made big news when the IHOP opened.

And my Mother tried.  One day she cut up a cantaloupe and said I couldn’t move from the table until I ate it.

Cantaloupe

Cantaloupe

So I sat.  And sat.  And sat.  Absolutely 100% refusing to touch the thing, even if it meant I never moved from my seat.  It was the one time my stubbornness outlasted my Mom’s, because I finally was able to get up without taking one bite.

Rebellious child refusing to eat

Her next tactic was to fry me so many fries that I’d eat my fill and get so sick of fries that I’d turn to something else.  She bet me that I she could fix more french fries than I could eat.  At first I was in heaven.  Crisp, hot, salted, beautiful french fries to my heart’s delight.  But after I went through the first mountain of fries and looked to my left through the pass through to the kitchen to see my Mom standing at the stove, a new batch frying, and an almost full sack of potatoes still to her left, waiting to be peeled, I admitted defeat.  I could not, in fact, eat french fries non-stop as fast as she could peel and fry them.  But eating until I made myself sick did not, unfortunately, cure me of my obsession.

I’d go out with my friends to the pizza parlor and sit while they ate.  I’d go with my family to the Mexican restaurant and drink water while they ate.  I was actually quite skinny despite the pounds of potatoes because I hardly ate anything else.  One would think I’d venture to taste a bite of something, out of sheer boredom if nothing else.  But no.  I have no idea what I was thinking (or not, as the case may be).

In college I didn’t buy the Meal Plan even though not buying it meant I ate every meal out at a restaurant or in my room by myself.  I had a routine.  Wednesday night was 3C BBQ, barbecue brisket sandwich with fries (yes, I did eat barbecue brisket sandwiches, often at Dubs Barbecue in Tyler, Texas where we sat in wooden school desks with sawdust on the floor and it was heavenly).  I don’t remember the other nights exactly, but it was a rotation of hamburgers and turkey sandwiches and spaghetti.  I missed out on a lot of my college experience and spending time with my friends by not venturing downstairs in my dorm to the cafeteria.  You’d think I’d have at least tried if for that reason, if nothing else.  But I didn’t mind eating by myself, as long as I had a book handy (and I always did).

I eventually expanded to club sandwiches and, finally, pizza and a few other basic food groups, but still nothing one might consider healthy.  Then I moved to California.  Then I met my health-nut, eat-anything husband.  And while I wouldn’t venture to say I’m adventurous in my food choices, nor am I someone who appreciates good food (other than the boiled and triple fried fries I was served in Scotland that were the most amazing fries I’ve ever had in my life and that, as you now know, is saying A LOT), I have expanded my dining options.

Every morning I have breakfast, and for breakfast every morning I have a smoothie with 4 oz of cranberry or pomegranate juice, 2 leaves of kale, 1 carrot, 1 celery stalk, 1/3rd of a cucumber, with some frozen blueberries, strawberries and pineapple thrown in, along with Dr. Lipman’s protein powder.

My breakfast!

My breakfast!

And I limit my fries to once a week and sometimes not even that — not even keeping count just not needing or craving them unless it’s the type of place where you just know you’re going to get a good fry.  I eat spinach salads with strawberries and goat cheese and walnuts and balsamic vinegar and love it.  I had the Restaurant Week special a Puesto in The Headquarters on Friday — a Mexican fruit bowl with two fancy chicken tacos and grilled corn — and raved about it all day.  Sometimes I even try a bite of fish!  But never shellfish.  I can’t eat anything that still looks like the animal it once was because I can’t bear to think about an animal being killed so I can eat it, but boneless skinless chicken breast seems innocuous enough as long as I don’t think too hard about it.  OK I guess that’s another picky food quirk still in my quiver but I’m definitely making progress!


Remembering Mama Fling

The Fling Family while living in Riviera, Texas

My great-grandmother enriched my life in ways that are still evolving.  That’s my great-grandmother standing in her Sunday best (how they kept their clothes so white in such a dusty farm is evidence of the miracles of lye soap and lots of elbow grease) in the photo above, her arm protectively learning on the carriage in which my grandmother lies.  They had a hard, hard life but you would never know it. Both of my great-grandparents lived until I was 12, and lived only 30 minutes from my house, so I got to visit often.

I don’t recall ever even speaking to my great-grandfather…  he was ancient in my eyes and his worn, wrinkled skin seemed to be shrunken on his tall, thin, brittle frame.  He had a permanent look of sternness that assured I’d never voluntarily go up to him for a hug.  Not only do I not recall him speaking to me, I don’t recall him speaking at all, though I’m sure he must have at some point.  He was usually found napping in the back bedroom when we’d come to visit, a silent, mysterious man who seemed to have no connection to child that was me. But my Mama Fling was another matter altogether. Her kind, loving, gracious, generous soul shown through and I’d sink into her soft belly with a big hug when she turned around from the stove to greet me.  She was almost always at the stove, somehow managing to stretch what little they had into a Sunday dinner big enough to feed anyone that decided to show up, and everyone usually did.

After dinner (as we called lunch) I’d put on her old, old-fashioned, cotton bonnet that always hung by the back door and pretend I was Laura in Little House on the Prairie while I wandered through the backyard hunting for eggs the chickens had left, or catching a ride on a horse if one of the uncles happened to bring one by.

I’d always find a way to visit the old wooden shed out in the front yard that served as the area’s gas/convenience store, stocked with a big tin cooler of ice and soda water bottles, with candy bars and dry goods crammed on the shelves. It also had an old-fashioned gas pump, the kind with a glass ball on top that you really had to actually pump for gas to come out, though I never saw anyone actually stop for gas (this was the 60s and technology had already passed them by, but no one bothered to remove the old pump and for all I know it remains there to this day, stuck in the hard red dirt that symbolizes Turney, Texas to me).

Everyone in the small town called my great-grandmother Mama Fling, even if not actually related to her, because she made everyone feel like family.  And she loved the Lord, talking to God in prayer whenever she had a worry on her mind or a word of thanksgiving, whether over the stove as she cooked or pushing a broom around the kitchen.  Jesus was her best friend, and she called on him daily.  She spent all Sunday at the Corinth Baptist Church across the street from her house, having the preacher over to the house for lunch every week.  God was an integral part of her life every day.  She had no judgmental or hypocritical bone in her body, just a life lived with joy and love and grace.   She had no material wealth, but an abundance of love, the memory of which continues to live on.  Her children continued to talk about how blessed they were to have her as their Mother even as they were in their 80s and 90s, and how rich they felt for having been in her life.

I tried to model being a mother after her, and didn’t even come close, but I know my life is richer for having known her and I am inspired by her example to get closer to God, to focus on what’s important in life, and to remember than even if life is tough, and feel unappreciated, or worn out by work and stress and multi-tasking, and even if I never do anything to leave a mark on this earth that is remembered after I’m gone and that shows I lived life fully while I was here, I just have to remember that she didn’t write a book or create art or new technology or receive any award, many years after her death her legacy still lives on, in the hearts of all who knew her.  She was loved, and the world was a better place because she lived in it, and she enriched my life in layers I’m still unwrapping as I uncover the “wise old woman” that’s been buried inside me for too many years.  I feel that part of her lives on in me, and my desire to honor that heritage helps make me try harder to focus more on simple things, and the most complex thing one could ever hope to master, the ability to truly love.