Saturday, December 28, 2013
My Life in Words, Part Five: The words I never heard said were “eating disorder.”
I would assume that we settled into a few years of normalcy, or what we knew as normalcy. I was eager to learn. I knew which adult to go to when I wanted something. Me-Maw was my source of all things good to eat. Now, to most people that sentence would end there. But like most things in my existence, it didn’t end there. Let’s repeat the sentence above : Me-Maw was my source of all things good to eat. Now, the corollary to that was that I was the receptacle of all good things Me-Maw prepared to eat. Well, of course, the remainder of the family ate her good food. The trick was that SHE didn’t eat her good food. You see, she had what was described as an “irritable colon”. That meant she didn’t eat anything. Well, most people would describe her diet as not eating anything, but she did eat some things – just not very many things. Let’s describe her diet, shall we? For breakfast, my Me-Maw had a delicious breakfast of a soft boiled egg, two pieces of dry toast, milk and water. That was it. For lunch, she branched out to enjoy a jar of strained carrot baby food, two pieces of that same dry toast, and milk. And for dinner, she had to limit those eggs. Heaven forbid if she ate too many egg yolks. Dinner would consist of egg whites, dry toast, and milk. Oh, and water. That was it. From the time I was old enough to notice someone’s food and how it was different from my own, it was all I saw my grandmother eat. I wish I could say that it was for a limited time, but the reality is that that same diet was in effect for over 50 years. Over the years she added a teaspoon of apple jelly for breakfast, and strained peas baby food for lunch, but basically the menu items didn’t change. Oh, she continued to feed her family every southern delicacy known to man. But she didn’t let any of it touch her lips. As I grew, I begged. I cajoled. I threatened. All because I wanted to see her eat something. But she never wavered. People admired her for her will power. People felt sorry for her because of what she had to endure. People whispered about how serious her pain must have been to cause her to stick to such limited offerings. The words I never heard said were “eating disorder.” Yet those were the two words that I diagnosed once I was an adult and realized what an eating disorder was. She used her battle with food to control her family, and even more importantly, to control her husband. She couldn’t go out to eat with that diet. We couldn’t go on a long vacation because of her diet. Of course, some arrangements ended up being made, but those arrangements never included her eating something that wasn’t on THE LIST.
As much as food was my grandmother’s enemy, she did everything she could to make it my friend. Are you sad? Let’s see what we have to eat. Do you feel bad? You need some grits. You can’t sleep? I think you need a piece of pie cause you are probably hungry. She was the world’s biggest pusher of southern comfort foods. Given the fact that she never tasted what she was cooking, she was certainly known as a great cook. I grew up with specialties that my mouth still can taste – fried apple pies, pound cake, Swiss steak, meatloaf, stewed potatoes, black eyed peas and corn bread. You haven’t had chicken and dumplings till you have had her chicken and dumplings. I think her food was the ribbon that tied the family together. At least our version of the family. It was certainly an odd assortment of people. All related, but all so profoundly different, even in the way they approached life.