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October 20, 2008

a grandmother’s obsession

My grandmother is overly concerned with keeping her grandchildren well fed.

    This is how a typical lunch at her house happens:

    Sitting around her table with a full stomach, I push my plate to the center of the table.

Grandma begins to stand as she asks "Would you like some more mashed potatoes?"

    "No, but thank you, Grandma," I politely reply.

    A few minutes pass as my sister begins talking about her dramatic day at high school.

    My grandma interrupts. "You didn't eat everything on your plate. You're skin and bones! You sure you don't want anything? More chicken?"

    "I'm sure, Grandma. I'm full."

    Not two minutes later, "I have grapes in the fridge if you're hungry."

    "Okay, Grandma."

    "Ice cream, too. Hey, do you want some more Pepsi?"

    "Grandma, I'm fine. Relax."

    And it continues until I step off her front porch steps to return home. I leave her house knowing of every grocery item she has in her fridge, and which compartment they are in.

As a child, I wasn't able to recall why my grandmother acted this way; I just figured every grandma was concerned with keeping their grandchildren stuffed full of food.

Little did I know then that when she was a child, one meal a day was a luxury.

When my grandmother was three years old, her father died of an aneurism. The year was 1944, in the midst of World War II, and barely after the Great Depression. If there weren't already plenty of reasons rations were scarce, losing a father made middle class living for a family of six children nearly impossible.

My grandma's mother never acquired a driver's license. She secluded herself in her house, only to pamper her children and stepped outside if only to say goodbye as they left for school. Her family received a small check from the government at the beginning of each month, but with three growing sons and two hungry daughters, the food was gone within two weeks. My grandma's mom was adopted, and her grandma checked herself into a mental institution, so she didn't have extended family to help take care of the household.

As a small child, my grandma took extreme measures to eat. Homeowners regularly chased her out of gardens and she resorted to scouring through garbage cans in town. On a very exciting but rare occasion, a church would drop off a meal at their house.

One day, the children were so desperately hungry that they cornered a rat and fried it to eat. They didn't know how to gut it; while attempting to cook, the odor was so rancid they had no choice but to throw it out. My grandma was again disappointed and without a meal.

When my grandma entered school, she was able to have at least one meal a day from the school lunch program. Yet since her mother never left the house, resources were still scarce. My grandmother continued to be hungry until she was old enough to get married and leave the house.

My mother remembers my grandma on pay day: she arrived home from her bartending job at midnight, paycheck in hand, exuberant and ready to grocery shop. My mom looked forward to those trips, waiting for her mother to energetically walk through the front door to round up the kids for a shopping trip. They bought ding-dongs and milk and any kind of food they could pack in one shopping cart. As my mother recalls that food always came before bills.

My grandmother's childhood made her the food-obsessed person she is today. In July she begins talking about the preparations for Thanksgiving dinner. Even when she is home alone, she cooks meals for at least six people. She loves to bring Krispy Kreme doughnuts to our house simply to enjoy our company and eat the fattiest doughnuts on the planet. Her world revolves around food; if she isn't preparing food, she is thinking about it, talking about it or shopping for it.

So now when I come over for lunch, I am not so frustrated with my grandma's enthusiasm to make me so full that I don't know if I could ever eat again. I make sure to eat everything on my plate, and maybe even have seconds, because I know of one chilly day sixty years ago when my grandma was so hungry she fried a rat.

1 comment:

Dana said...

Great Story. Since my mom starved as a child, me and your mom never went hungry...Hense the 50 lbs of obesity...I have some storys on this subject for you...LOVE YOU GIRL...