During my childhood at Aunt Shiela’s house, food was simultaneously unimportant and something special. What I mean to say is that if us kids were hungry, we ate. We didn’t have to ask. Aunt Shiela called it an “open fridge policy.” So, in that sense, food wasn’t an issue or a rule to follow. In other households, children might hear, “No koolaid before bed!” or “Don’t eat that snack! Dinner will be done in an hour.” But at Shiela’s house, that wasn’t the case.
At the same time, food at Shiela’s house was something more than just fuel for our bodies. It was a ritual–a time to sit down and spend time together. All of us would fend for ourselves throughout the day (with scrambled eggs in the morning and fried spam sandwiches for lunch) and come evening time, a big meal was prepared, grace was said around the table, and everyone was expected to sit down and eat. It was an event. Fried pork chops, mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed peas–hearty meals that filled your stomach and weighed your eyes down as you drowsily took your last bite and slipped into an after-dinner coma.
Food at my parents’ house, though, was treated in a different manner. My mother had the opposite of an “open fridge policy.” She was a food fascist. I remember coming home from elementary school, starving, and afraid to grab a snack. My mother would be taking a nap each afternoon, sleeping off whatever controlled substance she decided to take that day. After my dad’s daily trip home for his lunch break, my mom would sleep from one until my dad got home from work and she needed to start cooking dinner.
I learned very early on that accidentally waking her up early would prove disastrous for me. If I came home too loudly–even the creak of the front door would cause her to stir–there would be hell to pay. Every afternoon, with a growling stomach, I’d weigh the risks of making a snack and sneaking it up the groaning stairs to my bedroom. It was a dangerous risk–my snack making would surely be too loud, the trip upstairs would be too loud–and I wasn’t allowed to eat an after school snack, even if I managed to do it quietly. So, on days when my hungry stomach outweighed my sense, I would make a peanut butter sandwich, pour myself a glass of milk, and tip toe up to my bedroom to eat and watch muted soap operas on my black and white television.