At first glance, one might guess this is a story about growing up eating a lot of wholesome, unprocessed food. “Perhaps they had their own vegetable garden,” you might be thinking or “Maybe Barb’s mom was some sort of animal activist who forbade red meat or pelted eggs at woman wearing furs coats. No, not at all. We were the family that only cared about dessert, and nutrition didn’t seem high on anyone’s list of priorities. Yet, my mom had a lot of rules about foods she wouldn’t buy. There was no rhyme or reason to the list; it was the equivalent of telling someone, “It’s fine by me if you down a can of lighter fluid, but for heaven’s sake, please don’t swallow paint thinner.” Here were some of the rules we lived by.
- Boxed cakes were fine, but cake mixes were not.
- TV dinners were regular fare, but Kraft Macaroni & Cheese never once sat on our shelf.
- Deviled ham was ok, but the line was drawn at Spam.
- Hershey’s syrup could be used for chocolate milk, but Nestle’s Quik was banned.
See a pattern here? Of course you don’t. This list makes no sense. In addition, instant hot chocolate was never, ever an option (this is one of the few things mom insisted on making from scratch), Cheese Whiz was considered the same thing as cheese, and grape gum was never under any circumstances, allowed in the house (my mother couldn’t stand the smell of it and each and every time I sneaked it in, she sniffed it out like a police dog and forced me to confiscate it immediately). Both my parents considered yogurt vile and neither of them was willing to “spend good money” on it. I never even tasted yogurt until I went to college. They felt the same way about cottage cheese, but I think I was allowed to eat this once or twice sometime after I reached puberty.
In addition to the bizarre packaged foods rules, mom had some strange rules when it came to fruit. When she went to the supermarket to do the weekly shopping, she would buy five apples or five oranges, etc. Each person in the family of five got one piece of whatever fruit she bought…for the week. There was no limit on cookies, but fruit was rationed. Perhaps fruit was expensive, so she didn’t buy much, but in addition to there being very little fruit, trying to barter for or exchange fruit with your siblings was highly frowned upon. If mom caught you in a corner trying to bribe your brother for an extra apple, you were told to break it up and move along. Strangely, there was no such rule for bananas. Mom would buy a bunch and you could eat whatever you could get your hands on. Go figure.
Mom’s fruit distribution system became much more complex in the summer time when she was more likely to buy cherries or grapes. Each week she would take the fruit and divide it into equal amounts and place it in bowls with little slips of paper with our names on it. This actually worked to my advantage, as I would create my version of the fruit shell game, eating cherries from my brothers’ bowls and then switching around the name tags.
Perhaps I have my mother to thank for my love of fruit. But I may have swung a bit to another extreme. Whenever I buy fruit, it’s hard for me not to eat it all in one sitting. A pound of cherries can be gone in a heartbeat and I will frequently eat several apples, peaches, or whatever else is in season in one day. I still feel liberated and just a wee bit naughty eating that second piece. But there is one fruit I never want seconds of. You guessed it…bananas.