One of my family’s favorite stories when I was growing up was a particular sibling. He used to take a spoon from the kitchen drawer, go outside into the garden, and begin shoveling rich, loamy soil into his mouth. We caught it on camera—and even Super 8 movies (prehistoric, pre-handycam / pre-cell-phone technology). Right before I got married, my parents were celebrating their thirtieth wedding anniversary, and so we siblings put together a family history tribute for them and set it to the tune of the Twelve Days of Christmas. You bet, the “Five Golden Rings” was replaced by “sibling ate dirt.” That was our favorite line.
Now, perhaps I’m hitting my sibling too hard here. Because if I want to be really honest, another sibling and I used to sneak into the cabinet where our German Shepherd’s dog food was kept and popped more than a few kibbles into our mouths. We thought it was delicious. That was before I was five.
And then there was another sibling—a brother—who had a pink baby blanket. My parents must have been expecting a girl (no ultrasound in those days). Well, this little machine took to his pink blanket big time—so much so that he chewed on it day in and day out. He called it his “night-night.” It was so full of saliva and stank so badly that nobody wanted to touch it. I remember my parents calling to us.
“Gerrit, would you throw (sibling)’s blanket into the washing machine?”
Because my wife and I had three kids of our own, I now understand that trick. My parents didn’t want to touch that stinky, mutilated blanket any more than we kids did, but they had the power. So, my sister or I (whoever got the request—or command) picked it up by one of its threads with one hand, pinched our noses with the other, and then dropped it into the washing machine. I don’t remember if my clothes were washed with it--heaven forbid, but I guess it doesn’t matter at this point in time, anyway. Whatever the case, we carried that abomination to the laundry room as if it were radioactive. We sure thought it was (both radioactive AND an abomination). It went through the washing cycle, came through the dryer, and didn’t look much better. Within an hour, my sibling had that thing stinking as bad as before it went through the laundering process.
So, considering all the disgusting things my siblings and I put into our mouths, I guess I learned real quick what was disgusting and what wasn’t. The only problem—I learned the lesson too well. I became the family’s pickiest eater. Not a smidgen of gristle or fat made it into my mouth. We had a miniature poodle that sat under the table by my feet. He was happy to conceal that evidence, but not so much the green things. Nothing green—other than lettuce, peas, or green beans, made it into my mouth. And as far as onions and celery goes, I was an expert at picking it out of anything my parents served. Must have been exasperating for them. Actually, my dad made it clear he was displeased. (Let’s just leave the description of his exasperation there.) I didn’t even like potatoes—French fries, baked potatoes, and hash browns were the worst. (I was okay with mashed potatoes.) Pepper was evil, and cooked carrots made me gag. Not until I went to college did my tastes begin to change.
Then, I moved to Asia right out of college. Eating challenges abounded there. I ate snails, frog legs, eel, and any number of things fellow Americans might dub “disgusting.” Padang food serves tripe, lung, and brains…along with other innards. I’m also glad I didn’t live in North Sulawesi, where they eat dog and the three “at”s: cat, rat, and bat. I made a trip there in ’97, and one of our team members wanted to try it all. We asked him if he liked any of it, and he told us that he didn’t, but that he was glad he tried it. I’m glad I didn’t.
But the hardest thing for me to eat was papeda, a dish served in eastern Indonesia. It’s made of sago flour, and when cooked with water, has the consistency of glue (I was going to say snot, but I figured that was inappropriate). During one visit to Papua, I was in a home church group with all ex-convicts, all sitting on the ground in a circle as food was being served. I was trapped. Nowhere to run or hide. I couldn’t wiggle my way out of eating it. Besides, I wasn’t about to be a weenie in front of a bunch of ex-cons who had endured much worse in their lives than I had. So, I took half a plateful. And, I’ll confess, once in a lifetime was enough. I was glad I lived in western Indonesia where we had healthy indigenous foods like Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's.
Living in Asia did wonders for my liking of vegetables, though. I can now eat green things—even like them. But when I traveled back to the States and ate a meal with my parents, Dad always teased. When I was a teenager, he’d say, “Gerrit, watch out—you missed an onion.” Well, on these trips home in my 30s and 40s, that phrase morphed into, “Gerrit, watch out—you might get an onion on your fork.” Dad teased me about it until I turned fifty, at which point Mom said, “That’s enough!” So for the last couple of years, I’ve been hassle-free when we get together for a meal.
That’s because now, I eat almost everything, and fast. I still have a couple of holdouts, but even on those, I’m giving up. I enjoy teasing my kids about not eating tomatoes, or mushrooms, or whatever, so in order to be on strong footing to tease them, I have to eat anything and everything. (Guess I got my dad's teasing gene--chip off the old block).
When I was young, I had to learn about lots of things that were not healthy for me to put in my mouth, like coins, rocks, leaves…and dog food. Now, I have to learn not to put things into my mouth—things that make my stomach extend over my belt. I feel like a little kid all over again who sneaks things into the mouth that shouldn’t go there—like chocolate, sourdough bread and butter (my favorite), potato chips, and in general, yummy things.
Oh, why oh why must we make such rules about what can and can’t go into our mouths????