She cooked the way she lived – afraid. Every piece of meat, vegetable, even pasta had to have
the contamination scorched out of it, lest it harbor disease.
Botulism, trichinosis, streptococcus, staphylococcus, things that had nothing whatever to do with
undercooked food, but just to be sure, she would broil and boil the shit out of it. Just to be sure.
Dinner every night at 5:30 – gray, unidentifiable meat, mashed potatoes, vegetable and a glass of milk.
“Drink your milk, goddammit,” my father would yell at Kathy.
She was lactose intolerant; he was utterly intolerant. “It doesn’t give you a stomach ache – that’s all in your head,” he would yell.
There was no reason to yell; it was a small table and just the four of us.
I ate each food, one at a time, always saving my favorite for last. I still eat that way.
“What the hell’s the matter with you,” he would yell. “It’s all going to the same place.”
Kathy and I would constantly antagonize each other. Once, she put salt in my milk, just for fun. I took a sip
and complained – “my milk tastes salty.”
I forget how many times he yelled that I was imagining it before he tasted it for himself and proclaimed it to be salty. Because our parents prided themselves on being equitable with their daughters, we both got into trouble for that one.
We got on her nerves, her perpetually frail nerves. One night she hit her limit
and threw a plate full of food against the wall, then went to bed. It was an extreme reaction,
but that was always her favorite kind.
Anne Lamott once wrote about how hard it is to enjoy your dinner when you’re holding your breath.
I could relate.