I once wrote a story detailing my distaste for the veggies that my mother cooked back when I was a kid on Martha's Vineyard. So, I felt it only right and proper that I also write a story that pointed out the good veggies I came to know and love from those same summers.
First, there was summer squash.
Now, I'd had squash back home in Arlington, and found it to be positively horrid! So, it was with some trepidation that I approached eating it once again. But, out the back door of my grandparent's cottage was their next door neighbor, and he had a garden. Actually, he had a whole lot more; he had a full chicken coop! When we'd go visit grandmother and grandfather, I'd always slip out to go visit the chickens. Standing outside their coop, I'd slip them blades of grass and other treats to eat.
While the neighbor never gave us any eggs, he did present grandmother with some of his fresh veggies. So, coming to Sunday dinner one day, she set a bowl of hot, streaming summer squash on the table.
I groaned. Oh, this was not going to be a pleasant meal. On top of that, the screens on the two dining room windows were intact. So, there was no way for me to toss the vile veggie away. Also, as it was grandmother who had cooked it, I felt I should give it a try. Trying to not look like I was gagging, or on the verge of puking, I lifted a wedge of the stuff, glistening in butter, to my lips and slipped it in my mouth. I braced myself, determined not to shoot the mouthful clear across the room.
And then, I made a fascinating discovery. Summer squash, when sufficiently fresh, and properly prepared - was quite good. I ate all that was given to me, and did not gag once. To say my parents were surprised would be an understatement; they were agog, simply agog. My Father wondered what had happened to his son, and what alien creature had replaced him!
Yet, that was not the end to this tale of tasty treats. Oh no, there was one more to be discovered. On the island there were or are a large number of farms, and corn is grown in great abundance. Now, here again, I had never really been a fan of it, especially corn on the cob. Back home in Arlington, it tended to be tough, chewy and not very tasty, and I really hated the way the kernels would get stuck between my teeth!
Well, this summer, as always, there was plenty of corn to be had. A number of farmers would set up stands along the road and sell it for eight to ten ears for a dollar. As far as I was concerned - still way over priced! Yet, to my Dad, that was a bargain. So, he bought some, and brought it home.
Setting a pot on the gas stove, he gave me the ears to shuck, and sent me outside. I climbed up on the little picnic table out there, and began to peel off the husks and hair. It wasn't an easy task for a little six year old; those husks were on there firmly, and each ear seemed to have a zillion hairs! Yet, I worked at it, and eventually got them done. Of course, by the time I was done, the water was boiling pretty hard.
We plopped the ears in the water, and waited. Me, I waited with dread; yet another foul veggie to choke down. Finally, when the ears were ready, they were served up, and I had to make yet another attempt at eating this contemptible corn. The ear was far too big for me to hold, and too hot; so my Dad pulled out the little gizmos to stab in each end of the ear. After that, he drowned it in butter, and it was time to eat.
Well, it was time for him to eat. Me, I never could stand really hot food; I liked it cooled a bit. Or, as my Dad said, "How can you eat that stone-cold stuff? It's cold as the grave!"
Hey, to me, it was just perfect.
Anyway, I took a tiny bite, and started chewing. And, I was totally amazed. This stuff was sweet, delicate, and quite delicious. Then I thought about it, and realized, well of course, it's Island corn! Everything on the Island is perfect, don't you know?
Not quite. My Dad explained it all to me. "Corn has sugar in it," he said.
Now, that right there floored me. A veggie having sugar in it, and mothers wanted us to eat it? Did they know about that?
Anyway, Dad said that the minute the corn got picked, the sugar started to turn into starch.
I gagged. Starch! Wasn't that the stuff my Mother put in my Dad's shirts to make them stiff? We were eating that? Ah, now it became clear. Of course, we all know that mothers torture their children with despicable dishes. So, what could be more natural than them stuffing such a contemptible chemical into our poor little bodies?
So, then I knew Mom's master plan. Beyond that, I knew the master plan of all mothers in the world: force starch into us. But, the Island, our place of pure paradise, it would come to our rescue; it was here that we could eat the sweet corn, the good corn - the sugar corn!
After that, each summer I looked forward to the corn crop coming in, and buying plenty of ears from a roadside stand. And, each summer, it was my job to shuck them. Over time, that job got easier. The ears seemed to get smaller, and the husks weaker.
Together, summer squash and corn are two of my favorite vegetables. My trips to the Island are few and far between now, and I find those same veggies - when purchased from farms not of "The Island", seem to be lacking in that little extra something that makes them special. Yet, they're still good.
I guess it's possible for a boy to learn to eat his vegetables; at least some of them.
Click here for more by AJ Robinson.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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