I blinked twice, September rolled around, and I was holding a spoon in front of my son; a plastic purple spoon that was good for gums and liquidy rice cereal.
I tentatively held it to his mouth. This boy, who licks the bars on his crib, his ‘That’s Not My Teddy’ book, and the carpet when he scoots and flails off his blanket; took one look at that cereal and backed his head up.
‘Zach, look, it’s so good!’ I pretended to eat it with the ole ‘turn your head sideways and slide the spoon next to your cheek’ trick. But he had heard that one before. I set the spoon on his lips, he looked at me, pleadingly, and I used my left thumb to pull his chin down and slide the bland cereal into his mouth, saying, ‘Just try it, you’ll like it.”
I was the picky eater of the family. I refused to try food, not based on what it looked or smelled like, but based on what it was called. Things like ‘broccoli’ and ‘cauliflower’ just don’t sound edible to a boy who spent most of his summer days eating good sounding food like ‘chocolate chip cookies’ and ‘dirt.’
The worst sounding food of all? ‘Liver.’ The second worst? ‘Onions.’ Combined they sound like this: ‘Liver and onions.’ Umm, no, thank you.
I was six-years-old when mom opened the sliding glass door and announced dinner one Sunday afternoon. I dropped my bike and raced Dad, Jean, and Jake into the house. I was the first one to slide into my seat at the table. I had a dirty face and sticky popsicle fingers. I poured the Kool-Aid into my cup, glad to see it was red and not purple. I surveyed the table.
I grabbed for the salad. Green lettuce, purple cabbage, and red tomatoes. I didn’t take any of the carrots. I set the salad bowl down as Dad, Jean, and Jake reached the table. I saw the closed tinfoil which could only mean garlic bread. I grabbed two slices of that, too. I took three green beans from the bowl and flattened them on my plate so it looked like I had taken more.
I called to the kitchen, ‘Mommy, I don’t see the meat!’
She walked into the dining room with a platter. I stood up to get the first view of the meat. I was hoping for steak or hamburgers or fried chicken. She set the platter in front of my dad. It kind of looked like a steak looks; but a kind of steak that didn’t taste good. It had some brown circular things on it, slimy and wet. Dad cut into the meat and started serving everyone. Jean held her plate out. She’d try anything.
‘What is it?’ I asked, not sure if it was something I wanted to try.
‘Oh, it’s a kind of steak,’ mom said. ‘It’s called Liver and Onions.”
Jake looked at me. ‘Liver and Onions,’ I repeated. I sat down. ‘No thanks.’ Jake sat back in his seat. ‘No thanks,’ he said.
Dad put a huge piece on my plate and stacked two or four onions on top of the meat. I winced.
‘Jimmy,’ mom said, ‘just try it, you’ll like it.’
That was it. I knew I’d hate it. I knew they were going to make me try it. ‘Mom, please don’t make me try it,’ I pleaded. She just stared at me.
Because I was six, I got my own knife to cut the meat. I cut the tiniest corner of liver with the tiniest sliver of onion. It was smaller than my pinky fingernail. I forked it and slowly brought it to my mouth as mom and Jake watched me. I smelled it. It smelled worse than it sounded. I stuck my tongue out and placed the meat on it.
It tasted like the house smelled the time an opposum crawled under the house and died. It tasted like that time when I fell into the puddle of water under the swingset after the gardener fertilized the yard. In short, it tasted like liver and onions.
I shot my tongue out and shoved my napkin into my mouth and scrubbed. I choked and coughed. Jake started doing the same thing without tasting the meat. I grabbed my Kool-Aid and drank the entire glass all the while hearing mom’s words echo, ‘Just try it, you’ll like it.’
Zach gagged and scrunched up his face. He stuck his tongue out, pushing all the cereal I had just given him out. I caught the cereal with his spoon and re-fed it to him. Surely, it would taste better the second time down. He whined and complained. His face turned red. I half-heartedly tried giving him one or two more bites. He pushed the cereal out as fast as I could get it in.
I wiped his face and picked him up. He smiled. I smiled. We were a lot alike.