July 4, 2013
My father liked to cook. There were a few things that he made really well: Chili, Clam Chowder, Potato Pancakes, and anything grilled.
Every now and then, Dad would cook up “experiments”… Most of which were inedible. Giant stockpots of inedible… that we would have to eat until it was all gone (“We’re not Rockefellers!”). I don’t know why these horrible creations always showed up in such large amounts; my theory now is that some ingredient was cheap in bulk.
The black-eyed peas lasted a month. By week four, a Sunday barbecue, I couldn’t eat anymore. Our dog, Bullet, had stopped accepting them; he’d sniff our plates, whimper, and back away.
My brothers all groaned when they saw the stockpot being placed on the picnic table that Sunday. My mother didn’t make a sound, but I could tell by the look on her face that she wasn’t happy, either.
As I watched my father mound them onto my paper plate, I burst into tears.
Black-eyed peas. Again. At a cookout!
My father turned to Mom and pointed at me. “What’s the matter with her?”
My mother handed me a napkin. “Dry your eyes.”
Then she turned to Dad. “What? I feel like crying, too,” she said. “Those… things… are disgusting.”
I began crying harder. I could see my father’s feelings were hurt. Then his face went angry as he turned back to me.
“If you don’t eat them, you won’t eat anything else.”
My younger brother, Tadpole, started crying, too. “No more!” he wailed.
“Other little kids don’t get anything to eat for dinner,” my father said.
I looked to my mother, pleading. She took her plate and sat next to me, but spoke to Dad: “This is the last time we will eat them.”
To this day, no one in my family will eat a black-eyed pea. In fact, when I see them at the market, I feel sick to my stomach.
The black-eyed peas had barely been gone when my dad decided to make a three-bean dish. In the stockpot.
I don’t know what my father put in that dish, but it tasted awful.
At the table that night, Mom distracted Dad here and there, so that we could feed the beans to Bullet. He seemed to like them. (Poor Bullet. He spent most of the evening in the backyard. Whenever he came back inside, Mom had to let him out again; poor guy had the worst gas in the world!)
Later, alone in the kitchen with Mom, I whispered, “I hope the beans don’t last as long as the black-eyed peas!”
“Oh, they won’t,” she said.
That night, Mom “accidentally” tipped the stockpot over. No more beans.
About forty years later, whenever I am at a party and someone offers me three-bean salad, my appetite disappears.
Our family was experiment-free for a while (I think it was an entire year, but I am not sure.). Then came the mackerel… A giant stockpot full of it.
My mother named it “Unholy Mackerel,” and that seemed about right.
I do not remember what else was in that dish. I only remember having to open about a case of canned mackerel. Until then, I thought that tuna was the only fish that could be purchased in a tin (and I didn’t even like that!). The smell! Just thinking of it now makes me want to gag!
We all sat at the table and tried to eat some of this fish that my father had spent hours preparing.
Bullet wouldn’t take any from me. Our cat, Familiar, sniffed it and ran away.
That was the last straw for Mom. She slammed her fork down.
“The fish is bad! Don’t eat any more of it!” She yelled.
My father started to argue, but Mom won: “The damned cat won’t eat the fish! There is definitely something wrong with it!”
My mother dumped it all in the trash, and then made hamburgers and French fries for dinner.
After we all ate, I went into the parlour and sat on the sofa by my father. He looked so hurt.
“Daddy, don’t feel bad,” I said, hugging his arm.
“I should just stay out of the kitchen,” he mumbled.
“Yeah,” I said. “Or… I bet Grandma could teach you how to cook!”
“You think so?” he asked.
“I bet if you call her up and ask her, she will teach you how to cook anything!”
She did, too.