Kids in the sixties reveled in hurling epithets that seem positively sanctified by today’s standards: tattletale, crybaby, sissy, titty-baby, chicken, dumbo and greedy-gut. Calling out anyone of these could get you in plenty of trouble at home or on the playground. As one of five children, I have been known to be a greedy-gut, along with my gluttonous siblings. As I went over this list with Bud, he said he was always glad to be called greedy-gut, since that meant he’d gotten more of the good stuff.
My cousins were “finicky.” Thei mama complained. “My kids won’t eat anything.” I thought that sounded good. Mother proudly answered, “I don’t have to worry about that. My kids eat whatever I put in front of them.” It didn’t take a genius to see we did. It was humiliating. I yearned to be picky, but my appetite always got the best of me.
We never had cookies, chips, sodas, or snacks of any type lying around our house. Should a bag of cookies or chips find its way in, we’d all pounce on it, eat all we could hold, wait till we felt better, then check back to see if any was left. There rarely was. For after-school snacks, we had biscuits with peanut butter if we were lucky, or pear or fig preserves if we weren’t. I was never tempted to indulge in Mother’s homemade fig or pear preserves. Daddy insisted she sugar them heavily and cook them down till they candied with syrup the consistency of tar. I’d sooner have eaten tar. If Mother was flush with cash on grocery day, she’d buy a big bag of apples or oranges, which we’d fall upon and finish off in a day or two. Sometimes the stores ran specials on canned peaches or big purple plums, which served as dessert for dinner.
Dessert was for special times, usually a yellow cake, baked in a Bundt pan. Mother taught each of her girls to bake a yellow cake when they turned five, a proud accomplishment for the girl. None of us was great on detail, so not uncommonly, we’d start a cake before checking if all the ingredients were available. Sometimes we’d do without if we’d gotten the cake started first. It wasn’t unusual to substitute shortening for butter, or bake without milk, vanilla or eggs. Sometimes a cake with one substitution is tolerable, but two or three render it inedible. I have been known to use plain flour and not add baking powder powder, soda, or salt. A cake like that makes a pretty good pot lid.
Our greed set the stage for Mother’s humiliation. Daddy was a hypochondriac. At least yearly, he’d come up with a malady requiring hospitalization. His ailments ranged from flu to stomach ailments to a stiff knee. When a new doctor opened a clinic nearby, he realized he had a sore back. Naturally, the new doctor admitted him for tests, something doctors were able to do in the days before insurance oversight. He shared a room with Mr. Ivan Garvey, an affable fellow. During a visit, Mother met his wife, Doris, and inferred they’d become friendly. Mrs. Garvey invited her to come by for coffee.
Some days later, Mother took Doris up on her casual invitation, dropping by by just as Doris was taking peanut butter cookies out of the oven. They smelled heavenly. Not realizing the calamity she faced, Doris set the plate before us. Over Mother’s horrified protests, we decimated those cookies. Mother tried to slow us down, but Doris said, “Oh no! Let them have them. I like to see kids eat.” Naturally, we believed she meant it and wanted her to be happy, polishing off the batch. It must have been the happiest day of her life.
Humiliated, Mother got us out of there as soon as she decently could, lighting into us the instant we cleared the Garvey drive. “I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life. Y’all ate like hogs. She didn’t want y’all to eat all the cookies….” Her rant lasted longer than the cookies. We scattered as soon as we got home. We never went by Doris Garvey’s house for coffee again. Too bad.