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My Writer's Journal

My History with Food

I was a picky eater when I was a child. Most kids are. My mother didn’t like to cook and had no interest in trying anything new, so we ate well-done meat and I pushed aside the overcooked vegetables, except corn and tomatoes. Iceberg lettuce made an occasional appearance. Applesauce was acceptable, and I loved strawberries from the garden in summer.

Just don’t serve me anything strange—like spaghetti and meatballs. Too spicy.

Forget sauerkraut (too sour), a family favorite. On New Year’s Day my grandmother served it with roast pork. “A pig roots forward, and a chicken scratches backward,” and therefore on January 1st we ate pork (no chicken--not even an egg) for luck and prosperity. Sauerkraut was also on her table on September 29th, Goose Day, a feast peculiar to a very small area of Central Pennsylvania. Nobody could explain why, but I learned years later that September 29th is Michaelmas—St. Michael’s Day—when farmers paid their quarterly rents to the landowners. “Quarter days,” as they were called, originated in England, and apparently the custom carried over to Pennsylvania. How the goose got involved, I’m not sure—maybe the poor bird was part of the rent. But my Pennsylvania Dutch (actually Deutsch: German) family faithfully observed it, ate goose and wished for good fortune in the year that followed.

My food pickiness continued unchallenged until my parents took me to New York City when I was in junior high. My father had come home from World War II with a taste for French and Italian food, and he proposed eating in a French restaurant. Somehow I was coaxed to order coq au vin—chicken in red wine with mushrooms and little onions. I ignored the mushrooms and onions, of course, and approached the chicken with trepidation. What a revelation! I was a convert. My dad bought me a little French cookbook, and although I didn’t attempt any of the recipes then, I started to see food in a new way. A revolution had begun. Read More 
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The Pianist's Daughter

My mother was a pianist, the graduate of a conservatory of music, and had several pupils. My father met her when she was the church organist and he moved to town and joined the choir. It was assumed that I would inherit their musical genes.

My mother was my first piano teacher. She showed me the black and white keys, told me their names, taught me how to put my thumb on middle C and play the scale. When her friend came to visit, I was invited to show off: “Play C scale for Aunt May,” she said. After a couple of failed attempts, it was obvious that I couldn’t find middle C for my starting point. Mother asked for an explanation, since I had known it only a day earlier.
It turned out that I had marked the key with a booger, and she had washed the piano keys and removed my marker.

Maybe, she decided, I’d do better with a regular teacher. Every Thursday I went to Mr. Prettyleaf’s house for a lesson. I practiced, and I improved. Then the time came for the student recital at the end of the year. I can still picture the hall with folding wooden chairs and a baby grand piano. I remember my yellow eyelet dress and my black patent maryjanes. I remember the song I’d worked hard to memorize, “Irish Pipers,” and my hands sweating as I sat in a little room behind the stage, waiting my turn.

I also remember that there was a point in the music when I was to repeat part of the first section and then take the second ending. But something happened; my mind went blank—I could not remember the second ending, and so I played that first section again, missed the second ending again, repeated the first section another time, my hands perspiring, the keys slippery with sweat, until finally I simply stopped, stood up and bowed, and promised myself I’d never again play in a recital.

I’ve kept the promise.  Read More 
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