I didn’t have health insurance growing up. It was too expensive, especially for a single mom trying to make it. So, when I went back to Vermont to visit, Meme would take me to a pediatrician for an annual check up. I’m not sure how many times we did that. I remember one visit, strange and surreal. Aside from blood tests, jittering reflexes and saying ahhhh (“I remember those tonsils anywhere!”), I also had to look at blobs of ink and tell him of what they reminded me. There was also the classic picture that could be seen as an old woman and a young woman. “What do you see?” “Look again.”
After the doctor’s office, Meme took me to McDonald’s for a treat for being so good. Time passed, the test results came back. I had the cholesterol levels of a chain-smoking, meat-eating 40 year old man. Maybe it wasn’t that bad, but I remember it was shameful, atrocious and dangerously high for a child. For some reason a number near 300 keeps popping into my mind. No more McDonald’s.
Meme wasn’t known for her dietary restraint. Even in these last years, she had an army of chocolate, candy, maple syrup, and a host of salty goodies. Going home to Vermont was always about the treats. Sneaking into the pantry to grab gobbing spoonfuls of Marshmallow Fluff. Sometimes the job had to be quicker than a retrieving a spoon would allow. Those times called for precision finger extractions. The Fluff would ooze back in to cover my tracks.
I remember other disgusting things I ate back then. Twinkies, Hoho’s. Trout from the lake. At holiday dinners, I was never much for the gizzards, but I had an ungodly craving for the turkey hearts. I’d pop ‘em in my mouth whole. Meme would laugh, filled with pleasure that I enjoyed her cooking so much.
Maybe all of this sewed the seeds of my eventual evolution to a vegetarian diet. With my grandmother, I started developing my understanding of the origins food. As in NOT from a grocery store. She had a garden that I’d weed. The summer harvest usually included some tomatoes, lots of green and yellow beans, peas and corn. She’d give me a tin can when I was bored and order me to go knock the potato bugs off the plants. Clang, clang clang into the can. We’d sit for hours in the kitchen, prepping all of these vegetables for canning, cutting the scraggly ends off the bean, freeing the peas from their shells. It was our time together. It was a space were nothing had to be said, we just sat and did, enjoyed the smell of the garden, the summer.
It makes sense to remember Meme through food. It’s present at every family ritual, even the ones that had not so much to do with a date on the calendar, but the spirit of the season.