After I lost my parents, my path took a few stutter-steps before I found a permanent home. More by accident than design, I found myself in the care of a woman who really wasn't related to me, but took me in and raised me as one of her grandchildren. After years of abuse, both physical and emotional, and neglect, I was eager to settle into this oasis called Gram's House. She certainly wasn't perfect. In fact, just like all of us, she had her own flaws and foibles. But I learned a lot from her.
One of my best, earliest memories involves dinnertime. I had eaten my first helpings of everything and put more on my plate. I found myself unable to finish, and was afraid I might be in trouble. Gram cleared the plates off the table and asked if I wanted some dessert. "But I didn't eat all of my dinner," I said. "That doesn't matter. Sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. Next time just take a smaller helping. You can always add more to your plate if you're still hungry. Let's have some dessert." I can't remember what that dessert was, but I can say it was probably the sweetest I had ever had in my life. Gram chose not to punish me with, or regarding, food.
I never heard the words "there are starving children in fill-in-the-country-here who would like to eat this food." She was wise enough to know the poor logic behind that statement. My overeating certainly wouldn't fill their bellies. In fact, when I was in High School, one of my friends got a shock when I didn't finish my sandwich and she used that line on me. I promptly handed her my lunch bag and calmly said, "Here, mail it to them." I do believe I made my point.
I think the fact that she was fifty-three years older that me, had already raised her kids, and had grand-kids old enough to be in college, had mellowed her. People joke about how parents are more nervous and strict with child number one than they are with child number four. By then they have figured out that the kid isn't going to break and that life goes on, and if a kid will only drink chocolate milk at least they're getting their calcium. Well, imagine taking it a step further and throwing a grandparent in there.
Hey, don't go thinking I was spoiled and got away with everything, because I didn't. Gram could yell like a work of art. And she had her own devious ways of ensuring my good behavior. A sweet little grandmother would never lie to a kid, would she? YES!!! She looked me straight in the eye and told me that she could read little girls' and boys' minds and know if they even THOUGHT about doing anything naughty. I behaved for years on that one! When I was older and called her on it, she just smiled and told me that of course it worked, because kids always look guilty when they do something wrong!
I remember once she told me something about food that ended up being the coolest thing she could have taught a young kid. Even cooler than not having to clean your plate before you're allowed to have dessert! She asked me to promise her that I would never decide I didn't like something until I had tried it. I might end up not liking it, which would be no big deal. But I might end up loving it, which would be great. I still embrace this philosophy. Because of her, I have been willing and eager to try scallops and frogs' legs and rattlesnake sausage and emu and ostrich and squash blossom tempura and chicken feet and escargot in garlic butter on mushroom caps. At a company luncheon in my early twenties, when my coworkers were afraid to try anything anything more exotic than hamburgers, I was eating monk fish.
Ah,the glories of trying new things! All types of international cuisine featuring things from chicken to squid. I haven't liked it all, but I have loved a lot of it. I will admit I will probably have to take a moment to gather my courage if someone ever invites me to sample tongue or brain, but it can't be that bad after chicken feet. And someday, I will try some sort of insect. Oh, wait! I already have! Don't snails count? My husband says no. But don't ask me to eat a worm or cricket today, okay? But you'll find that if you offer me a taste of something I have never eaten before, there's a really good chance you'll hear, "Sure, I'll try that!"