Last night at dinner my brother asked our mother, “How did you manage to keep all of us from finding out all these things you don’t like to eat?”
Our mother is picky about the things she’ll eat. She doesn’t like fish or fowl. She doesn’t like tomatoes—the slimy texture of the seed part is too horrible for her to bear, so she avoids tomatoes with a passion. She likes the yolk of the egg but not the white (it’s also slimy). She doesn’t like most vegetables. She doesn’t like olives. She doesn’t eat game meat. She doesn’t eat onions or peppers or cucumbers or celery. She’ll eat the white meat from a chicken if you cook it so that it doesn’t taste like chicken. It should go without saying that she’ll never eat anything that’s supposed to taste like chicken and really doesn’t, but that’s what you tell the kids so they’ll try it. If you carefully smother fish in other flavors so that there is not the least hint of fishiness, she’ll eat a tiny portion.
Her answer to the question was simple—she wasn’t going to have spoiled children. We were not going to be allowed to become picky eaters. She carefully hid her own pickiness from us.
The rule was that we had to try everything, and you had to eat everything that you put on your plate. One of my brothers developed an aversion to green peas. One time he offered to eat his entire paper dinner napkin to get out of eating his green peas, and an exasperated parent said if he thought the napkin would taste better than the peas, go ahead. I watched him, fascinated. Would he really eat the whole thing? He did. Everybody was laughing so hard by the time he finished that he didn’t even get punished. And in later life he ate peas.
My mother was the youngest of a very large family. By the time she came along, Grammy was so tired out that she allowed my mother to have her own way just about all the time. And if my mother wasn’t with her parents, she was visiting one of her married sisters or brothers, and they delighted in letting her have her own way about everything. Fortunately, my mother has an inherently sweet nature, or she’d have been impossible.
When my parents married, my dad delighted in spoiling my mother further. He did everything he could for her. Once, he complained upon coming home from work that the house was messy. She retorted, “Do you want a clean house, or happy children? You can’t have both.” He never complained about that again. She wasn’t a bad housekeeper, she just allowed toys to be out. But every Saturday everything had to be cleaned, and we all learned very early to help her. When he retired, he took over the finances and the cooking, freeing her from those chores. He did most of the housework. He did most of the shopping.
Now that he’s gone, I do all those things for her. I guess I am the third generation of Spoilers in her family. So when my brother visits and sees that I try to cater to my mother’s tastes by making different things for dinner for her and for the rest of us, he can be all amazement about her secret being out now. She is a Picky Eater and we have been trained to allow that.