by Eloise Hawking
By the time I made it into the house for dinner, the table was set and my family was waiting for me. My mother says it is important for a family to eat together. “ A family who eats together, stays together,” she once said.
I replied, “Isn’t it--the family who PRAYS together, stays together?”
“Yeah, that too,” said Mom.
“What took you so long?” my mother asked, as I returned with the dinner fixings.
“Grandpa had me help him with his garbage can.”
I saw a look of strain cross my mother’s face. No matter how old a child is, they can always sense when their parent is displeased with them. I could tell Mom wanted to ask if there was damage done to the garbage can, but she didn’t. Some things are better left unsaid, I guess.
We all ate Harvest Soup. All except Sam, that is. We had steaming bowls full of soup, and my brother ate a bowl full of ketchup.
Sam is beyond a picky eater and it is a battle of wills right now between Sam and my mother. For some reason he has taken the liking to ketchup, just ketchup, plain ketchup in a bowl, that he eats with a spoon. Mom says to ignore it and that it is “just a phase.” I say it’s disturbing.
My soup wound up being the perfect bowlful. The first bite tasted salty and good. I held it in my mouth an extra second or two before I swallowed it. It was just the right temperature, not too hot and not too cold. I was hungry, but not famished so I was able to savor each spoonful without having to devour it. I felt like Goldilocks who hit pay dirt with Baby Bear’s porridge.
“Time for our bread, Cinderella. Unfortunately, you get the heel,” said Mom smiling at me sharing our joke. She passed me the warm, crusty heel, to which I added a pat of sweet butter. Both Mom and I loved the ends of the bread. She saved the BEST piece for her Cinderella.
I dipped my bread into the soup and allowed it to absorb the salty broth before I took a bite. It was my favorite way to eat the heel—soaked in soup. I did that a few times and soon all that was left in the bottom of my bowl were my least favorite vegetables—tomatoes, carrots, and onions.
“I see those vegetables lying in the bottom of that bowl, Cinderella. You need to stay healthy if you are ever going to find your Handsome Prince,” reminded my mother. “Eat the carrots first. You need to be able to check out Handsome, to make sure he lives up to his name.”
Mom always made us eat carrots because she said that God designed them especially to help our eyes stay healthy. To prove it once, she cut a carrot horizontally into a little disc. When we looked at the cross section, we saw that the inside of a carrot looked just like the human eye.
“….and those tomatoes, too,” said mom. “Handsome has to make your heart beat faster if he’s your true prince. You don’t want to meet your Handsome Prince and keel over with a heart attack, now do you?”
Tomatoes, according to mom, are excellent for your heart. They are red and have chambers just like the heart does. The juice that runsthrough them looks just like our blood.
“Now don’t worry about the onions, Cindy,” said mom jokingly. “They are known for giving a person dragon breath, and one certainly wouldn’t want halitosis when you happen upon your future husband, but these onions are cooked down. After they are cooked, the taste becomes milder so you don’t have anything to worry about.”
“Mom,” I said rolling my eyes, “I’m ten! Do you really think we should be talking about my Handsome Prince?”
Forced tomato eating is gross, but onions are the worst! Mom says that when an layers of an onion are peeled back and examined under a microscope, they look exactly like a human cell. She says that is proof that they are good for our bodies. Mom says that God provided onions not only for our health, but for flavor. She puts them into lots of things she cooks.
“I just don’t get why people put them in soup if they get so mild you can’t even taste them anyway,” I went on.
“Oh, onions are far from worthless. God had big plans for onions. Remember, they are all about adding flavor to things,” said Mom. “You can really tell when an onion is missing from a recipe. It’s the finishing touch that makes most soups perfect, like this one. Now stop asking questions and eat your onions, ONION,” said Mom, reminding me of my nickname from Sam.
I finished my bowl in silence as the nightly news played in the background and the pot of coffee sputtered and perked. Mom poured herself a cup which she drank straight black.
“I see that the lunch calendar says the cafeteria is serving up Huskie Burgers tomorrow,” she said. Mother Eloise told us she thinks they are really made of dog meat and never lets us buy them.
“More ketchup, please!” yelled Sam.
“Why how polite you are, Sam!” praised Mom.
I guess she was looking to praise polite more than normal eating behavior. Mom squirted more ketchup into Sam’s bowl.
“Time for the dishes, Hope,” Mom commanded of my older sister.
Hope loves to do the clean up after meals. I think she’s just plain crazy to want to do that day after day, meal after meal.
My mom says my sister Hope is “special”. It took me a few years to figure out there was more attached to the term “special” than just being loved, though. Hope is special in more ways than that. Hope is very particular and likes things done a certain way, and the same way all of the time. Mom says that gives her comfort and to leave her be. I am sure glad that Hope finds her comfort in loading and unloading the dishwasher.
“Where is your lunch bag? “ I asked Mom.
Sometimes my mother’s lunch bag is hard to spot. It doesn’t look like a lunch bag at all—it looks like a cool, plaid purse. When you unzip it you expect to find compartments with keys and Kleenex and Chap Stick. The bag is lined with that tin foil looking stuff that keeps things cool. It’s a lunch bag, not a purse at all! Although the bag is designed to keep foods cold, mom doesn’t really need the foil lining because she packs the same thing every single day, an apple.
“It’s hanging on the hook in the entry way,” she replied.
I spotted the gray plaid bag and went to retrieve it. I gathered all the other lunch bags up and began to empty the remnants of the day’s dining. I began my routine which I do nearly every school day. I know the drill. Dump the old stuff, set out five drinks, five napkins, five fruits, etc. for my mother to survey. I make five little piles of lunch items and display them for viewing right in front of the open, empty lunch bags. Mom gives everything a once over, and after I get her approving nod, I pack each sack neatly and leave it open on the table.
“There are some new football napkins in the pantry,” she said.
Even though I eat packed lunch nearly every day except for Fridays when the school serves pizza, my lunches were the envy of the fourth grade. My mother always makes sure we have a cool napkin that matches the time of year—no paper towel for her children. We have pumpkin napkins at Halloween, Santas at Christmas, tulip napkins in the spring, and of course football napkins in the fall, because football is Mom’s favorite sport.
The lunch food my mom provides is always awesome, too. I can choose most any combination to pack, because all things in our kitchen fall into the “Clean Foods” category. I always have a variety of organic juices to choose from. I can make different sandwiches with cool cheeses on whole grain bread. We always have the perfectly ripened fruit on hand. I am even allowed to add in something sweet like homemade cookies or Mom’s famous trail mix of nuts, dried fruit, and tiny chocolate chips.
Every kid in my class lines up to trade me various items for what’s in my lunch. I’ve never once given in, but was tempted once by Mikey. He offered me his Ho Ho, a holographic pencil with a super gummy gripper and an eraser that lit up. I think if I would have held out a bit longer Mikey would have thrown in the sharpener too, but lunch was over and we had to leave.
“There is a basket full of apples in the garage. Farmer Richter brought them down today. I’ll take one of those,” said Mom.
Lunch is not a surprise for me like many kids in my class because I am the one who does the packing. But Mom never disappoints. She always adds in a surprise every single day. A note . A little handwritten something or other from Mother to me. She must do it later in the evening, because I have never once seen her add the note. I asked her once when she did it and she told me the kitchen fairies who came to help her every night did it for her. They must be pretty efficient then, because they’ve never once forgotten either.
I never throw the notes out at the end of the lunch period. I leave them right in my bag. Every night, I take them upstairs to my bedroom and put them on my bulletin board that hangs behind my door. Most people don’t even know the bulletin board is there, because when my bedroom door is open, it disguises that part of the wall. It is when I am in my bedroom alone, with the door closed, that I can view the entire bulletin board. Tonight I will thumbtack up today’s note which appears to be a Bible verse. The note read, Hebrews 11:1. It’s definitely a Bible verse she wants me to look up.
Now that I give this a second of consideration, this note came on the same day of the Key assignment. I wonder if that was random or if Mrs. Eloise was sending me a message. I’ll have to look that up later and see if the Hebrew guy is the key keeper.
“ONION! I need more, ketchup!” Sam yelled to me. Sam has this habit of yelling everything he speaks even when I am only a few feet from him. Mom says it is the way a third child assures himself of being heard. I just call it annoying.
“GEEZ, Sam! I’m right here! And how much ketchup can a person eat?” I asked him in my most annoyed tone.
“Millions of inches of ketchup!”
I made a mental note to work on units of measure with Sam when I got the chance, and handed him the bottle.
“I want to squirt it! Let me squirt it!” Sam shouted.
We already were treading on rocky ground due to the punching incident in the tree house, so I decided that giving Sam the ketchup bottle was the best option for keeping the peace for the rest of the night. I sighed, set the bottle down in front of him a touch too hard, and finished my job. I zipped the lunch sacks shut and put them in the refrigerator for the kitchen fairies to add to later.
“Come on Sam, finish up,” I said. I felt a bit guilty as I looked at his bandaged knuckles. I’ll take you outside for awhile. Let’s shoot some hoops.”
“OK!” Sam smiled his one dimpled smile, as he jumped down from his chair and headed toward the door.
“Don’t forget to clear your place,” I said, reminding him that he too, had responsibilities as part of this family.
Strangely, Sam obediently put his bowl and spoon in the sink. He brought the ketchup bottle to me, smiled, and put it on the counter. Sam half skipped and half ran to the door screaming, “I’m first! I’m first!”
I sighed and grabbed the ketchup bottle to return it to the refrigerator which was littered with pictures and papers and an odd assortment of magnets. My mother loved magnets and had a nice collection of them.
When I picked up the ketchup, it seemed much lighter than before. I thought I had handed him a brand new bottle. Man, that kid could really eat ketchup. I hoped he didn’t puke because we would have one sorry red mess on our hands if he did. I shrugged, returned the bottle to the refrigerator door, surveyed the almost put back together kitchen and went outside.
“I could hear Sam impatiently calling me. “ONION!” “ONION!” “Where are you Onion? It’s no fun to play without you.”
Hmmm, I thought, when Onion is missing things aren’t as fun, and when onions are missing from a recipe, food doesn’t taste as good.
Thanks, Sam, I thought to myself. I just think I figured out the key to all things—onions. I bet some Hebrew guy had a great big garden of them.