For the life of me I cannot remember how I survived my childhood. I hated to eat. Such a waste of time, I remember thinking.
There were only two things that I remember eating as a kid, and even then my mother had to practically force feed them to me: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and those little packets of flavored oatmeal. But even then, it had to be specific. I only would eat strawberry jam, and as far as the oatmeal was concerned, it had to be the “brown sugar” flavor.
They say that our pallets grow and mature as we age, and I am living proof of that.
I remember going to my grandparents house during the Clinton Administration (aka my pre-teen years) and my grandmother (on my mother’s side, we’re not that close with my dad’s side of the family, to tell you the truth) would take one look at me and shake her head in dismay.
“Are you feeding this boy?” she would ask my parents, while her fingers pinched and prodded my skinny arms and legs. I remember she always wore thick amounts of makeup, having plucked her eyebrows to near extinction in her youth, and her breath always smelt of cinnamon gum. She was a habitual gum chewer and she always had a tiny mirror in her purse to make sure she was looking just right.
“Of course we are,” my mother would say with some exasperation, looking at my father for support. My dad would smile innocently, and then quickly excuse himself, muttering something about having to chop firewood.
“Well I don’t think that whatever you’re feeding him is working,” my grandmother said, looking over her glasses at my tiny frame with some suspicion. “If he was eating meat and potatoes like he is supposed to be doing, then he wouldn’t be this size. He’s nearly 12 and he’s skinny as a rail. It’s a tragedy, really.”
At this point, I excused myself to find my dad. He was hiding in the workshop with my grandfather. The two of them spoke of construction with great seriousness. My grandfather was a self-taught carpenter who really knew what he was talking about. My dad, on the other hand, had no idea what he was talking about, but that didn’t stop him from having an opinion. Then the talk turned to politics and I gracefully exited the back door into my grandparents backyard, where my brother Matthew and I had built a fort the previous summer.
The fort was quite simple really, but I was proud of it nontheless. It was a place to be alone with your thoughts. Though, since I was 11, those thoughts were focused on the latest episode of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Donatello was my favorite turtle at the time, and remains so to this day) and my schemes of how to amass more G. I. Joes and Legos for my collection. You know, kid stuff.
My mother’s voice interrupted my daydreaming.
“Nathaniel, come in! Dinner time!”
Oh God, why me? I thought, as I slowly walked to the house. Why must we waste time eating when we could be playing outdoors? This was thought process at that age.
As I entered the house the smell of chicken and broccoli filled my nostrils, and I sat down glumly at the dinner table, and watched in horror as my grandfather piled my plate high, handing it to me with a smile. The plate thudded on the table in front of me.
“Here you are,” he said with a wry grin, “eat this. It’s good for you.”
I stared at it for awhile, and then picked up my fork and unenthusiastically took a few bites, unimpressed.
“What’s the matter?” my grandmother asked, after noticing that I wasn’t really eating the food, but rather rearranging it on my plate.
“I don’t like chicken” I said. “Or broccoli.”
“Well that’s what I made so that’s what we’re having,” she said rather matter of factly.
“But grandma, I hate it.”
“Well what do you like?”
“Eating is so boring. I’d rather play baseball instead.”
My grandmother laughed loudly and long at this declaration. After awhile, she cleared her throat and said something I will never forget: “There will come a time in your life when eating a meal is the best part of your day, you mark my words.”
Who knew my grandmother was such a prophet? These days I love to eat pretty much anything and everything with great gusto. I’m a self-described foodie, really.
My grandmother is very proud (pictured below on my 24th birthday).