West Virginia South April - May 2019 - Page 25

Each spring, I'd ride with him to the feed store to select vegetable seeds and plants for the growing season. First, he’d spend an hour or so chatting with the guys who were always hang- ing around, discussing such impor- tant topics as tools, baseball and the weather. I don't remember ever seeing a woman in the store, therefore I was enough of an anomaly (and still in my short-lived cute phase) that I scored free candy. Future sociologists certainly will identify the feed store as an important step in the evolution of the modern man-cave. Just add a TV and beer, and omit the manure, and there you have it. Eventually, my father would get around to getting what he came for. He'd pick out the usual tomato and pepper plants, onion sets, and seeds for corn, cucumbers, beans, lettuce, beets, radishes and carrots, then get both the Blum's and Farmers' almanacs (so he could plant by "the signs"). But before he left, he would spot a weird plant. It was a vegetable he had never eaten. It was a vegetable that he would have said "what is that?" to if my mother had put it on the dinner table. Yet, each spring, he succumbed to irresist- ible curiosity and a different vegetable would end up at in a corner test plot. One year, it was Brussels sprouts; an- other, eggplant; and later, zucchini. When I say ”weird vegetable,” I mean that it was weird by my parents’ standards. My mother was an old-style south- ern cook, in whose kitchen vegetables other than lettuce had two destina- tions: Saucepans, where they’d simmer for hours; or her cast-iron frying pan, where they’d brown in oil. If a particular vegetable would do better getting off at a different exit, it was doomed. She boiled the first batch of Brussels sprouts. They emitted an odor that would’ve exterminated termites. Eggplant befuddled her, so she turned to the cooking method she always used when in doubt: frying. If you've ever fried eggplant – just straight fried it, like you would squash - you know that the results were round, greasy sponges. She declared that she didn’t know why anyone on Earth would eat that stuff and told my father never to grow it again. Zucchini got the same treatment, with the same greasy result, plus she said it "repeated" on her. (Translation: It gave her gas.) Zucchini, too, was banished to the Island of Misfit Vegetables. Some people inherit chiseled chins, willowy builds or valuable heirlooms, but I inherited an attraction to the odd edible, from my father’s side. On a menu, if I see something I haven't eaten before, I dash toward it like a 13-year-old girl spotting a cheap jewelry store. Of course, what I eat is weirder than my parents ever could have imagined. For example, at Japa- nese restaurants, I enjoy what the feed store guys, and even my father, might have called bait My mother's contribution to my genetic makeup pushes me to at least ask what something is before chomp- ing down on it. But if I do, my father's half whispers, "Just go for it. What's the worst that could happen?" I believe he said something similar before eating half of a smoked oyster pizza once, and that ended with us talking to him through a bathroom door for several hours. Nevertheless, I'm a daddy's girl, and that side usually wins, even it my mother's side puts up a fight. ("Re- member that smoked oyster pizza?") So, if you see me talking to myself in a restaurant, don't worry – just it's my genes arguing with each other. Leave some candy, and I'll be fine. I don't know what it is about food your mother makes for you, especially when it's something that anyone can make — pancakes, meat loaf, tuna salad — but it carries a certain taste of memory. — Mitch Albom APRIL-MAY '19 ❖ SOUTH ❖ 25