Day 11 of art every day:
“I’m going to turn eating back into dining”
Inspired by The Descendents, I Like Food. Also semi-inspired by Sunday dinner at Mom’s.
Let me tell you a little food story, a simple story about Sunday dinner at Grandma’s, a tradition we are carrying on in our family to this day. Well, this one isn’t so much about the dinner, as it is about how it got on my plate.
When I was little and spent most of my summers in upstate New York, we’d go fishing a lot. Apparently Roscoe, New York is the trout fishing capital of the world. Or of upstate New York. Trout fishing in America. Wasn’t that the name of an album? I vaguely remember that. Anyhow, I’d sit in the boat, crying that I wanted to go back to shore because I hate being in the water. My cousins would rock the boat to make me cry harder. And then they’d catch a fish and shove it in my face. The fish would be squirming and wriggling and I’d cry even harder. Well, what do you want from me? I was about eight. Maybe nine. Ok, it could have happened when I was 14, too. But staring a flopping fish in the face? A fish that was my eventual dinner? I’d look at the hook stuck in the corner of the fishie’s mouth. The look of abject terror on its face. Cry some more. This is why I can’t watch that Faith No More video. The flopping fish. It’s a post traumatic thing. Brings back memories of being on Lake Muskoday with a smelly, dying trout staring at me, pleading with me to save it, send it back to its family in the lake, and the echoes of my cousins’ laughter bouncing off the mountains.
Later on I’d go in the kitchen and see Grandma standing there with a leaver, chopping the heads off the fish. I’d cry some more (yea, I cried a lot as a kid). Then I would tell everyone how cruel they are. Think of the poor fish families who lost loved ones today. WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE FISH CHILDREN?
Then dinner time would come. Fish! Straight from the barbecue! Lemon, butter, garlic. Corn on the cob. The bulging eyes, the hooked mouth, the face of the fish turning into Mr. Limpet as I watch it flopped around….all that disappeared as I shoveled in mouthfuls of delicious fish.
I guess my noble feelings for fish and all edible animals only goes so far. I’ll be happy to eat the animals. Just don’t make me watch you go in for the kill.
Another food product that came by way of upstate was deer. The first time I was asked to taste venison, I had visions of Donder and Blitzen in my head. I thought Santa would be really pissed off if I started eating reindeer. So my uncle explained that these weren’t exactly reindeer. Then my cousin explained how there was no Santa Claus. Well, thanks a lot you son of a bitch. Guess what I did? Yea, I cried. And then my aunt shoved a plate of venison in front of me to shut me up. I tried it. It was pretty damn good. So I came to look forward to the winters when my uncles would bring deer meat home from upstate.
Because that’s what they did, right? They brought the deer meat home. In neat little packages. I never gave much though to the fact that they actually shot the deer and dragged the deer back to the car and then drove home with the deer tied to the roof rack like some carnival prize, other hunters beeping their horns and giving the thumbs up when they saw how many antlers your prize had. I never gave much though to how the deer went from being a whole, albeit dead, animal to being pieces of meat covered in onions and mushrooms on my dinner plate. Who needs to know that? I don’t ask how my cows or chickens are killed. I don’t care what Wilbur had to go through to become my bacon sandwich. I just want to eat. I am carnivore, hear me roar.
One night pretty close to Christmas – I was about ten – I was sitting on Grandma’s porch with my cousins. The same cousins who shoved fish in my face and killed Santa for me. I think Grandma kicked us out of the house because we were making fun of Pat Sajak. So we sat out in the cold talking about Christmas. One cousin says to me that he knows where my parents hide my Christmas presents. No shit? Now, I’m a pretty impatient person when it comes to things like presents. I’m all about instant gratification. So when my cousin says he knows where the presents are, I get curious. I just want to feel a few boxes. Shake a few. Figure out how many boxes are clothes as opposed to toys. This way I know how much fake joy I have to put out on Christmas morning. Oh. Yay. A pair of bellbottoms. You shouldn’t have. Really. So, my cousin tells me: Presents. In the garage. He points to the door right behind him. Well, it kind of makes sense. They’ve stored stuff in Grandma’s garage before. This wasn’t so out there. He says we should go look. Just for a few minutes. Someone else would play lookout. I stupidly agree. We stand in front of the door. I’m anxious, I hurry him up. He turns the knob slowly. It’s completely dark out now, and pitch black in the garage. I fumble for the light. Flick it on.
Deer. Dead. Deer. Hanging from the rafters of the garage like some suicide scene straight of The Far Side. There were two. I think one was hanging by its neck. The scene kind of morphed in my head into something out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre III: The Deerhunter, so I’m not sure. All I know is one was whole, except for a bullet wound. The other one was….well. Open. Slit open. Gutted.
I swayed on my feet. Sucked in my breath. My cousins were hysterical laughing but their voices seemed to be coming from far, far away.
I stared. I couldn’t take my eyes off those deer. The guts. The bullet wound. The eyes. Donder. Blitzen. I wasn’t aware that I was screaming until my uncle came running into the garage to see what was going on. He grabbed me by my waist, turned off the light and brought me back outside. I was crying. I called my cousins a whole bunch of words that would normally get me some soap in the mouth. No one yelled at me. Let’s face it, that was a mean thing to do. I spent that whole night trying to fight off nightmares about deer with guts hanging out of them chasing me through the woods. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw Dasher and Dancer hanging from the rafters.
The next day was Sunday, which meant dinner at Grandma’s. Besides the usual heaps of pasta, there was deer meat. A plate was pushed in front of me. My cousins were staring at me, watching, waiting for me to cry or scream or puke. My mind flashed for one second on the hanging deer. Those two dead guys whose insides were now sitting in my plate.
Smothered in onions and mushrooms.