Saturday, August 14, 2010

To Cook Or Not To Cook




A curious thing happened recently. A friend phoned me excitedly to say she'd found a small volume of poetry and prose in a secondhand book store, and that a piece of mine was included in it.

I was perplexed!...I'd managed to have a few things published locally,
but knew nothing of the volume she mentioned. I was no less confused when presented with her find, a book I'd never seen before...yet there was my name, attached to a tongue-in-cheek article about how I love to write but hate to cook. I grinned as I read it, having forgotten it completely since committing it to paper in 1984, though I remember all too well my childrens' repeated claims of starvation! I'm still not sure how my work ended up in a slim anthology produced by a writing group that no longer exists - it would appear I entered a contest of theirs - but I thought I might share it with you.
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I admit to being more amused than chagrined that I have not come to like cooking any better in the quarter century that has passed, but am heartened to affirm that my love affair with words will never end...
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To Cook Or Not To Cook
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In our household, my cooking has become a life-and-death concern. I mean this in a figurative manner only. In spite of my ambivalence toward food, it has never been my intention to deliberately poison anyone. Indeed, if the mutters of discontent that float around the dinner table are to be believed, there is not even enough zest in my cooking to give a cockroach a tummy ache, let alone seriously harm anyone!
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Therein lies the problem. I am a dull cook; a bland cook – in short, a thoroughly disinterested cook. My children, on the other hand, are extremely interested eaters. While I work my days around finding time to write, they fit time around filling their stomachs.
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The dining room in our house resembles nothing more than a combat zone. My husband remains wisely neutral, but the children unabashedly pull out all their weapons.
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“You know”, begins the teenager, wise with knowledge gained from three home ec. classes, “I’m not altogether sure that eating macaroni and hot dogs three nights in a row wasn’t proven to be the leading cause of cancer in lab rats.”
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I maintain a dignified silence, proud of myself for declining to point out the obvious similarities between children and rats.
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Spurred on by the lack of response, middle child joins in the fray. “Can you believe it?” he exclaims with mock disbelief, “Some people have dessert every night, not just for Christmas and birthdays!”
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I don’t even try to hide my shudder. Such dissolute indulgence could only lead to fat children and an exhausted mother!
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Never one to stay in the background for long, baby son makes a sound between a retch and a burp. “Yuk!” he manages on a groan. “This macaroni isn’t even cooked right; it’s still crunchy in the middle!”
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They have finally gotten to me. “Mummy is a writer,” I proclaim loudly in defense, “Not a cook!”
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This heartfelt declaration is greeted with three pairs of rolling eyebrow. “Great, Mum” eldest child drawls with unconcealed boredom, “but you can’t live on words, you know. People need food.”
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I am stunned into silence. Can’t live on words? Has a child of my womb really uttered such obscenity? Why, I can more easily imagine living without food than without words. What is food, after all? A necessary fuel we ingest into our bodies, only to be forced to repeat the procedure mere hours later. The fulfillment it offers is meager at best, and absurdly short-lived. But a carefully constructed metaphor; an artful blend of words that captures a feeling and sharpens it to pinpoint clarity – that is the real sustenance in life. There is no poetry in pot roast, no poignancy in a stalk of asparagus. I have read words that charged me with the excitement of simply being alive.
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Food has never done that for me.
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I cannot, however, say the same for my children. The delirium with which they greet a chocolate cream cake must, in every way, match the entrancement an illiterate feels when the world of books is finally opened to him. The sense of contentment I glean from a favoured author is, for my sons, found in a pint of bubblegum ice cream. Voracious, earthbound creatures they are, and mine is the dubious fortune to have been appointed their keeper.
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Time and time again, I’m pulled away from my typewriter by anguished cries of, “I’m starrr…ving!”
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My patient response on the convenience factor of apples and dry crackers only leads to their second-favourite war cry, “What’s for dinner?”
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There are more of them than there are of me. Yet another day, gluttony wins over creativity. Like it or not, I’ve come to accept that food is equated with love; and I am as susceptible as anyone to cultural conditioning. Ask my children – guilt is one weapon they learned early to handle with skill.
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“Jason’s mum must like him better than you like me,” my youngest son will whine, hanging dejectedly over my desk. I wince, knowing from experience what comes next.
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“She has hot chocolate-chip cookies ready for him when he comes home from school”, the plaintive voice continues, not disappointing me.
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I sag in despair, only too aware that this is not a situation that responds to logic. No amount of reasoning will render me immune to those wide, clear eyes, or make me feel better about being caught at my desk at school’s end instead of keeping vigil by the back door.
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Baby son get his cookies.
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The battle is ongoing, and though I’m resigned to the fact that it is not a fight I can win, I refuse to surrender completely. Cook for my children I will, and there will be days I gorge their sturdy young bodies with so much food that even they will be glutted to satisfaction.
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But other days will be mine – days when lunch is forgotten as I feast on a lavish repast of words; days when dinner goes unprepared because cooking up a plot is the only kind of cooking that engrosses me.
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My writing career moves slowly, but I remain convinced there’s a book inside me waiting to be written. I don’t yet know what it is, but I do know it won’t be, “One Hundred and One Ways to Prepare Ground Beef”!
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4 comments:

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Terrific story! And what a lovely surprise to have it re-surface all these years later and in published form, no less!

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Oh this is SO COOL! I love the photo of the book with your piece showing.....LOVE the hilarious piece itself, snickered at the kids' comments, and so enjoy your determination to keep writing regardless. I, too, am waiting for that book of yours. I see one full of your glorious photos and narratives about Africa. It will happen!!!!!!! While writing it, you will once again be in the land you love, meeting the eyes of a beautiful young lion in mutual regard:)two beings on a planet where truly anything is possible.

The Littlest Thistle said...

Hee hee, thanks for sharing. Did they ever learn to cook for themselves? ;o)

Kit said...

LOL!! Great story. Thanks for visiting my blog. Funny thing is, and my kids at school love this, I am a Head Cook who hates to cook!...LOL Thank heavens most of my food is brought to me and I just have to dress it up and serve it. I would much rather decorate and visit with the kids.....LOL Kit