Thursday, February 7, 2008

Thoughts On My Alabama Past

Our family was poor. My dad, an electrician, was constantly between jobs, because that's just how the market is for that kind of work. He was in a union called the I.B.E.W., or International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. If he wanted to make a living, he had to stay for months at a time where the work was, sometimes as far as Boston, and once, I recall he worked in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Back then, we ate whatever was affordable... sometimes that meant potted meat on the cheapest white bread money could buy -- the kind that crumbled when you spread anything on it. And I dare say there was nothing that should be defined as "meat" in the potted meat. We ate fried Spam and eggs, Spam sandwiches, and cut-up hotdogs, shriveled and pale, from boiling, mixed in with macaroni and cheese or barbecued beans. That was when the supermarkets carried rows upon rows of large generic cans of food, instantly recognizable by their lack of any logo or brand name, printed in large black-and-white type. I felt ashamed when my mother placed these in our cart at the local stores, Food World or Big Star. Maybe she did too.

Sometimes my mom or dad would make me remain at the table to finish some food I disliked -- green beans or my dad's homemade mashed potatoes (curiously enough, I only liked the instant style) -- no matter how long it took. They would turn off the light, and I'd sit in the dark, tears running down my face, picking listlessly at a congealed mound of spuds with my fork or spoon, feeling a lump in my throat as I forced it down.

It never dawned on me until I wrote this today, that although this wasn't the nicest thing for them to do, maybe they had reasons they saw as valid. Maybe it ate them up inside, the thought of having such meager funds to meet our food needs. Maybe they wondered how I could be so ungrateful for what it took to put that food in front of me. I'm not making excuses for them, but this could have been a reaction to not having enough and dreading to see it wasted. However, I believe this is what is partially to blame for my weight yo-yoing so much over the years. I still feel guilty at not finishing what's put in front of me, and with American portions being what they are these days, this can be a dangerous habit to have.

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