When Maria was a young girl her mother began taking her along to family gatherings with her mother’s sisters and sometimes her brothers. Those were days of cooking and eating the kinds of food that reflected the family’s Mexican heritage. But at home Maria’s mother disliked cooking and turned out bland meat and potato meals with tasteless overcooked canned vegetables. It was a relief on weekends when the family turned to fast food chains like McDonalds or Wendy’s, but even better when they went over to an aunt and uncle’s house on Sundays for a delicious home-cooked dinner.
Sitting in a red leatherette booth, Elizabeth, just 10, sipped her cocktail of lemon soda and grenadine garnished with a maraschino cherry on a toothpick. She really didn’t need the menu to decide what she wanted – her favorite, spaghetti with meatballs. The meatballs had strange green stuff inside that she might have picked out at home, but for now she would eat everything just like it was. She took a piece of Italian bread from the basket. Then, when no one was looking, she cut off a piece of butter from the little waxed cardboard square and stuck it straight into her mouth. This was heaven. She loved eating in restaurants.
Once in a while, when he would leave his Dallas high school to deliver the school newspaper to the printer, Humphrey would stop off at Peggy’s Barbecue for a brisket sandwich with onion rings. Another favorite place was Jack’s Burger Shack where burgers and fries were sprinkled with celery salt. Simple, but it made all the difference to Humphrey. He loved food. His whole family loved food. It bound the generations and the siblings together, connecting them to the foods of his grandparents in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Whatever it was, chitlins, duck with shot still in it, Tex-Mex, his mom’s fried chicken and cream gravy, his grandmother’s apricot fried pies. And especially the barbecue his dad introduced him to.
Twelve-year-old Hanna came home from school hungry. She walked across the green and gray checkered floor of her mother’s spotless kitchen, opened the door of the big refrigerator, and scanned it for a snack. A gallon of milk. Ugh, she hated its tasteless whiteness. Cocktail olives. A frosty bottle of Beefeaters. Moldy American cheese. A dried-up chunk of pot roast. Mayonnaise. Cold shriveled raisins. She closed the door and went to the pantry. She reached for the top can from a stack of six or seven, cranked the can opener and took a fork out of the drawer. In this house, a can of tuna fish was about as good as it got, definitely as good as she was going to get.
It was so hot on the prairie that 9-year-old Benjamin’s leather chaps stuck to his legs as the horse trotted around on the dry earth. It was the first time he’d worn a genuine cowboy outfit and rode a horse on a real working ranch, so he ignored the flip-flops in his stomach as he bounced along. At lunch he still felt queasy. He drank the ice cold glass of dark red juice his friend’s mother gave him to settle his stomach but it had just the opposite effect. He decided then and there he would be very, very cautious about trying unknown foods in the future and he would never drink currant juice ever again.
Late on a steamy summer night Estella’s mother and father went to the shed and took out their spears. Quietly making their way down to the footbridge by the stream, they stopped just below it and stepped into the water. They took turns as one of them held a flashlight while the other deftly wielded the three-pronged implement, bringing out four eels in just a couple of minutes and dropping them into a canvas bag. As they made their way back home, they imagined how delighted little Estella and the other two children would be when mother put tomorrow’s fried eel dinner on the table.