Thursday, May 14, 2009

Don't buy it, they'll just eat it.

Everybody has a few old saying that they like to trot out once in a
while. Most of them are kind of tired old statements like “A bird in
the hand is worth two in the bush,” and “A penny saved is a penny
earned,” but there’s another bit of wisdom, one that I learned from
my late father-in-law, that came to mind the other day:
“Don’t buy it, they’ll just eat it.”
He coined that phrase in response to the Sisyphean task of stocking
the larder for the hungry minions known as his four children. It was a
phrase, and attitude, we picked up as well, as we dealt with the
unending job of keeping our two growing boys fed. It wasn’t too bad
when they were just little boys, when we still thought we were in
charge. It was when those boys started growing up, things started
getting out of hand. I suppose it started when they got old enough to
bring friends around that I began thinking of these words from the
book of Exodus:
They swarmed over the whole land of Egypt and settled down on every
part of it. Never before had there been such a fierce swarm of
locusts, nor will there ever be.
They covered the surface of the whole land, till it was black with
them. They ate up all the vegetation in the land and the fruit of
whatever trees the hail had spared. Nothing green was left on any tree
or plant throughout the land of Egypt.

But that was nothing.
By the time they reached high school, someone had, apparently, erected
a sign in my front yard. A large neon sign that blinked on and off, repeating this message:
Good Eats.
People who live near places like Yellowstone Park or, say, the Alaskan
wilderness, might rightfully anticipate a sudden invasion by bears. But, in our case, it was sheer terror as, lying in bed, we would hear the ominous “thunk” of car doors closing, followed by rumbling thumps and bumps in the kitchen and pantry. If we were lucky, they would just settle for the snack foods we had left out in hopes of distracting them, like chips cookies and soda pop. Too often, though, they would decide to “cook” (note: no quotation marks are large enough to express
the irony in the use of this word) which meant we were about to be treated to a late-night symphony of scents and sounds produced, inevitably, by the smell of something edible being plunked into a hot frying pan and, a few minutes later, the insistent beeping of the kitchen smoke alarm. Being responsible lads, they would attempt to clear the smoke and “clean up” (see previous ironic note) before going off to hibernate.
“Don’t your sons know we own a dishwasher?” my wife would say
dangerously as she surveyed the disaster zone that had once been a
“Apparently not,” I would reply cautiously, as I set about scraping
down the inside of the microwave with a putty knife.
But nowadays, as empty-nesters, we find ourselves missing having our
sons around our house and home, even if they were steadily eating us
out of it. The main reason is obvious, as we truly enjoy the company
of our sons and their growing families. The other reason is less
obvious, but compelling, as well, for me, at least:
You see, there’s not often much food in this house. Part of it has to
do with our conflicting mealtime schedules, while another reason is
our mutual desire to weigh less than popular circus animals. It’s not
a real problem for my spouse, who subscribes to another old saying,
“moderation in all things,” along with a regular exercise regime to
stay svelte and pretty. I, on the other hand, have no, repeat, no
willpower. I never met a brownie I didn’t like and, when given the
chance, will pile on the calories like an Emperor Penguin anticipating
a long Antarctic winter.
“Don’t buy it, they’ll just eat it” applies to me, now, so you can
imagine my excitement as we anticipated a pair of visits from older
son Colin and his family last weekend as they traveled between
Carbondale and their home in Northern Minnesota.
If you saw me in the supermarket last week, you, no doubt, heard me
whistling a happy little tune as I traveled from aisle to aisle.
“Oh, the kids will like this,” I said to myself, as I packed my cart
with all manner of good and wonderful things.
There was whole milk to supplant the grey-blue skim stuff I generally
splash on my cornflakes. There was a box of a cereal I think was
called Chocolate-coated Sugar Bombs, that looked like a good way to
start a busy day.
It soon became like a mantra: “The kids will like this, the kids will
like this,” I repeated over and over again, as I tossed in treats to
tempt them all.
There were chips and cookies and coffeecake and even a bag of those
cheese curls that turn your fingers, and perhaps your very soul, a
bright orange when you eat them, all dedicated to the happiness and
well-being of my soon-to-arrive family.
My partner in crime even got into the act, baking both a carrot cake
with cream cheese frosting and a killer chocolate truffle cheesecake.
“The kids will like this,” I moaned ecstatically as I licked the spoon.
And one more thing. As I was rolling through the bakery department on
my way to the checkout lane, I spied a beautiful cream-filled doughnut
that looked like just the thing to reward my sometimes-finicky
granddaughter after she finished her sugar bombs.
“Oh, she’ll like this,” I thought happily.
It’s now a brand-new week. The kids have come and gone and come and gone again. Despite some dicy weather in Carbondale, the weekend was a success. Colin, who is a chef, even cooked for his mom on Mother’s Day, creating a true gastronomical climax to the festivities.
What’s left of the cakes will be taken to school, to be safely
consumed by fellow teachers. Everything else is pretty much gone.
Except one thing.
I was poking around in the pantry this morning, wondering if they had,
perhaps, left a handful of sugar bombs when I spotted it. There, on a
shelf where I had tucked it away, sat the doughnut. Cream-filled and
sticking lightly to the waxed bag I bought it in.
I had forgotten to give it to her.
Well, you can’t mail a doughnut, can you?
And there’s even one more old saying that fit the moment perfectly:
“Waste not, want not.”

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