Saturday, August 16, 2014

Canceling a Membership

Most of us are members of clubs, organizations, groups or fraternities, sororities. Some of those memberships serve us well and some are just verbal clutter in the background of our lives.

I have become aware of being a member of a club that no longer serves me, so I'm withdrawing my membership today, here and now.

That club is the "Clean Plate Club."

I was joined against my will when I was too small and vulnerable to object.

My father and mother didn't realize what that club had for rules when they ordered me to "clean up my plate," and they have cast off their mortal coils and any rules they issued are null and void now.

One of the philosophies of the club was that children starving in Hungary, Armenia (Does that place still exist?), Africa and other remote places unlikely to be visited by a five-year old from New Hampshire, would directly benefit from my consuming everything on a dinner plate for an adult.

Cruel and unusual punishment? It was never deemed so by the grown-ups, for whom a full plate was an affirmation that the war was over, there was now plenty for all, so celebrate and EAT UP!

Questioning a Leo father as to how my eating all my food could possibly help someone so far away was deemed insubordination.

So was refusing to eat something that either looked or tasted peculiar to a five-year old. But Taurus stubbornness is hardly a match for Leo's pride. Or was it?

One Friday evening my mother and father were about to sit down for a French 'apéritif.' consisting of fresh, bright red sliced tomatoes (pronounced toh-mah-toes for this occasion) and sliced hard-boiled eggs with a light vinaigrette sauce and some freshly cut up parsley. (This prepared by my mother when she was still interested enough in furthering her relationship with my father; not to say that there is any blame her in any direction, but at some point, they both did things to each other that caused her to stop making an effort with food for him.)

This lovely plate was put on the coffee table in the living room, and I wandered over to see what it was. Expressing an interest in tasting it, my father insisted that I have three slices of toh-mah-toe and three slices of egg on my own plate and that I sit down and eat it.
The re-created French aperitif plate which launched the
War of the Toh-mah-toes of circa 1950's.
Never realizing that this would become the War of the Toh-mat-toes in the early 1950's, the battle was joined. Of course I sat down, and upon taking one bite decided that was enough. The red thing, years later, might hold some small appeal, but my youthful palate thought it was disgusting. And those delightful hard-boiled eggs were sullied with a nasty-tasting bitter juice.

"Yeuchhhhhh!" I called out, and my father and mother's evening was about to be ruined. Putting my fork back on the plate, I got up and started to leave.

This was the affront that the Leo was not about to tolerate.

"Young Lady, sit back down and finish what is on your plate." Taurus feet (mine) were firmly planted in the negative, and arms crossed against my chest, I refused.

Prison was a better alternative, and that was where I was sent.  "Go to your room and you will stay there until you decide you are going to finish what is on the plate," my father ordered.

Dinner time came and went, and my father directed my mother to bring that very same plate out for my breakfast on Saturday morning. As he was going fishing with my older brother, he wasn't around to watch the tears and refusal that ensued. Back to my room I went without any breakfast.

Act II, scene 1: lunch was a repeat performance. By now the eggs had absorbed all the sauce and some of the tomato juice as well, giving them a peculiar color and an even nastier taste. My mother was looking at it with the same disgust but for some reason she was in cahoots with the jailer and was following his orders.

Act II, scene 2: Being in my room all day wasn't healthy, either, so I was let out mid-afternoon and I knew right where to go to find nourishment... the raspberries were in season and off I went to the patch.

Act II, scene 3: Everyone else at dinner was served from the variety of fresh things on the table, but I was subjected to a cold plate of withered up Toh-mah-toes and soggy hard-boiled eggs and an equally withering look from my father, ordering me to eat what was on my plate or go to my room.

It wasn't hard for me to decide what to do and I left the table. As I was going up the stairs, I could hear my mother arguing with my father that his intractable daughter was not going to bend to his pride and it should end now.

It did... but in a secret way: when the dishes were cleared from the table, those wicked no-longer red things went into the trash. I expect even Super-Pig (a creature we had out in the back) might have turned up his nose to them, but I don't know that for a fact.

Years, really almost 20 of them, went by and one evening when my father had invited me out to dinner, I told him this story. He was astounded that he could have behaved in such a way, and worse yet, his common phrase at dinner "Have some lovely toh-mah-toes," had become a trigger point for me to NEVER want to eat those garden vegetables in their fresh form again.

Curiously, talking about it with him, receiving his apology as well, was the curative, the forgiveness, that made it possible for me to eat them, but only if I put them on my plate myself. From then on, whenever we were at a table together, he would lightly say, "Won't you have some lovely toh-mah-toes, dear?" and we would smile at what was now part of our bond instead of our fence.

Silly that decades later I am still dealing with food issues and the consequent weight that accompanies them. But I am working on a variety of solutions and one of them is to cancel my membership in the Clean Plate Club. Now I can leave something behind without guilt. Or better yet, by making donations to food programs that allow that guilt to be assuaged, knowing that someone somewhere locally or far away is getting something to eat and I don't have to eat it for them.

And, although I re-created this dish for this blog, I don't much care for the combination today. But I do have my mother to thank for giving me the incentive to be creative about food and its presentation. Whatever complications my parents had between them, there is much good that each of them passed on to me and with some distance from the immediacy of their energies I can see that now.

What contracts have been made in your life, with or without your assent, that are playing out in the background of your life? Do you want to share?

And, to my children, who might be reading this... my profuse apologies for anything I may have said or done that created any contract that is negative in your life. Consider this the dissolution of it for my part in it.


  1. This makes me laugh, one of the things I have come to find out is that it was generational, while for so long I took it personally. I am finally able to use liver in soup stock, but I have never really warmed up to carrots. I have a granddaughter who will try any food and likes many and another who seems to live on solar power. It is amazing how much fear there can be between parents and children around food.

    1. I was guilty of that fear, that my children would perish if they missed a meal. Thankfully, my grandchildren have sane parents!