Early, jumbled memories of food crowd some dark passage in my brain. They push to the front when I stand, lost, in the aisles of my favorite grocer. They lurk as I open the tiny door of the cute little fridge in my galley kitchen. I shake my head; I tell myself that I’m sixty-seven years of age and need to get over the chaos of my childhood. But the hauntings persist.
I remember my mother on her knees on the kitchen floor, desperate to salvage some of the spilled milk. She tried to suck it into a straw and thence to a stainless steel sieve, hoping to eliminate shards of glass. I stood in the doorway, confused, anxious. I could not have been more than three or four.
My father banished children using poor manners to eat in the coal room. I assume that’s why my mother finally had someone dismantle its sooty walls after she converted to an oil furnace. We got a knife blade thwack on our forearms if our elbows hit the table. Food got served to us at each successive meal until it grew mold if we couldn’t clean our plates. Once my older sister contrived to spill a glass of milk on something that I just could not stomach the fourth or fifth time our angry father slapped the plate in front of me. He whipped her with his belt for her deed, but she stoically bore the lashing.
How many pieces of chicken come from one hen? Ten: Two backs, two breasts, two legs, two wings, two thighs. How many Corleys? Ten. How many potatoes can feed those hungry mouths? Four, boiled and mashed with a bluish concoction made from powdered milk and tap water.
At fifteen, I weighed next to nothing. At twenty, I ballooned to twice my typical heft. At forty, a double-whammy of Premarin and Prednizone skyrocketed my girth. I struggled to shed the poundage for the next decade. By fifty-five, I had dropped eighty-two pounds. As I climbed past sixty-five, the slow mid-life sprawl tightened my pants and threatened the stability of my broken artificial knee and spastic legs.
Yesterday brought a truce with food. I started my day with my favorite repast: two local, pasture-raised eggs soft-scrambled on a half-slice of toasted bread. A few hours later, I reintroduced caffeine to my Covid-recovered body with a trip into Isleton for coffee and biscuits. Later, I skillet-fried zucchini from my friend Rachel’s garden with tender mushrooms and served it over leftover rice from Thursday’s lunch at my favorite local Mexican joint. For dessert, I sliced a fresh nectarine, also from Rachel’s backyard. I drank cool spring water. I closed my eyes. I thought of the advice of the speech therapist trying to help with my weak throat muscles: Food is nourishment; chew slowly, swallow often, drink water between bites.
At night, I lie awake listing my faults and my failings. When I can’t sleep, I rehash each conversation, straining to dissect the nuanced timbre of seemingly innocuous remarks. But in the forgiving light of dawn, I consider whether I should be counting my blessings instead, one bite at a time. Perhaps that makes more sense. I’m willing to try.
It’s the fifth day of the one-hundred and sixteenth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.