Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
is a sad day when a young adult child is confronted with the realization that
her parents are not super-heroes, that they are not members of some omnipotent,
omniscient, immortal race of superior beings. The first time that a hapless parent
says something the newly adult child knows to be wrong, she might smile tenderly,
might give the careworn cheek a gentle kiss, noting the error but not commenting
on it. She has seen that her parent is not only human, not only mortal, but in
fact is old in the way that grandmas are old. Old and getting older. The first
time a father has to hand a jar to his tall and handsome son to open, well, that
moment means more to the son than the prospect of some pickled beets. It means
that there has been a shift in the balance of power. This moment when age defers
to the vigor and strength of youth might fill a young man with awe and a bit of
pride. Here Dad, let me get that. |
I remember with crystal clarity the
moment I realized that my parents had crossed the line from the prime of their
adulthood into middle age. Iíd come home from college for Christmas. I was hungry.
I opened the fridge where I found four different kinds of mustard, but no bologna.
There was jam: apricot, plum, strawberry, blackberry, apple butter, peach, marmalade,
but there were no muffins, no biscuits, no bagels. There were four slices of bread.
I could eat four slices of bread while I was getting the toaster out and plugged
in. Four slices of bread! But there were two bottles of honey, two kinds of barbeque
sauce, a bottle of bouillon, A-1 Sauce, catsup, horseradish, creamy horseradish
and horseradish with beet juice. There was Real Lemon and Real Lime and Grenadine,
but no milk. Sour pickles, dill pickles, sweet pickles, bread and butter pickles.
My parentsí refrigerator was cram packed with condiments, condiments, condiments,
nothing but condiments. And then I knew. They were old.
I had suspected
they were old. Once my sister was walking ahead of the rest of the family, pretending,
I am sure, that we were a band of winos following her hoping for a handout, or
that we were Hari Krishna devotees who didnít mean a thing in the world to her,
or maybe a troop of orangutans or anything but relatives of herís. My mother called
out to her, "Mary." Mary trudged on. Brave, you know, and defiant. "Mary," my
mother called a little louder. "She probably canít hear you," opined my father,
"because of all the eye make-up she is wearing." That struck me as kind of an
old guy thing to say. Caused me to wonder a little. But it wasnít until I came
home and found that refrigerator brimming absolutely full, with nothing in it
but briny things, pickled things, sauces and jams, that I realized. The fun was
over. Mom and Dad were old.
You can guess what is coming, probably, when
I tell you that I cleaned out my fridge the other day. We can be thrifty here
in kind of a weird way. We might indulge in any number of luxuries nowadays Ė
name brand peanut butter, fig preserves, Swiss cheese Ė extravagances that we
would never have allowed ourselves when we had a houseful of children who all
needed three or four pairs of shoes a year and trips to the dentist and doctor
and all of that. In those days generic peanut butter was just fine with us. The
truth is, that it is still just fine with us. I lied about the name brand peanut
butter. For the sake of the story. But while we might waste some money here or
there now that we are virtually child-free, we are loathe to waste one single
teaspoon of gummy dried up anything in the bottom of a jar. So, I figured it was
high time I sorted through all of that mess, dumped the dibby dabs of leftovers
from last week, made a clean sweep.
I dumped jar after jar after jar.
I consolidated three different jars of dill pickles, each with just a few pickles
in it, into one jar. Jar after jar after can after bottle went into the recycle
bin. And when I was done I stepped back and looked. In my refrigerator I saw four
kinds of fancy mustard, but no bologna. Seven kinds of snazzy, delicious jam.
And four slices of bread. I wonít go through the list. The end result was that
I had a refrigerator full of condiments. I was old. Am old. No, was. Because I
have declared a ban on them. It is not time yet. No more pickles or sauces or
relishes. I have laid down the law. Nobody is allowed to bring any food item into
this house which cannot be bitten off and chewed. Nothing is allowed which you
would not want a whole mouthful of. Nothing, and I mean it. I am just not ready.
© Elizabeth Bussey Sowdal
Girl Detective's Theory of Everything"
October 1, 2008 Column
Related Topics: Texas
Escapes Online Magazine | Features
| Columns | Food
| Mothers | Fathers