May 10, 2010
This Inviting Writing thing is off to a great start, isn’t it? We’ve arrived at the final installment of readers’ stories tied to the theme of “food and manners.” This one comes to us from Debra Kelly.
We’ll give you a new theme next week, so if your story didn’t get picked this time, we hope you’ll try again!
The World’s Best Liver Sandwich
By Debra Kelly
Back in the days of yore, I had a boyfriend. We lived in a small yet bustling Midwestern town. In yore, you eventually got around to bringing home the boyfiend—oops, boyfriend!—for Dad’s inspection. And dads have a way of sizing up young men. There could be a series of tests involved before a true picture could be formed in dad’s mind.
One of the first tests was regarding food and manners—but it had nothing to do with how you folded your napkin or held your fork. It revolved around a simple tenet: When your host cooked a meal for you, you liked it and you said so.
My dad loved to cook and took great pride in every concoction he produced. He was in the kitchen when my boyfriend and I arrived home one day, and he called out, “Are you hungry?” We answered in the affirmative and were asked to be seated.
I was delighted my boyfriend would have this time to bond with my father. Then I noticed my boyfriend tense, ever so slightly, and shift in his chair.
Dad had walked into the room with steaming plates in hand: Grilled liver and onions for each of us. This really wasn’t an unusual sandwich at our house. We enjoyed them occasionally.
“Uh oh,” I thought, suddenly remembering that my boyfriend hated liver.
Carefully, he said, “Ah, I don’t really eat liver sandwiches,” with an innocent smile and tentative tone that seemed to suggest a lack of knowledge rather than a complaint.
My father, not big on nuance, cheerfully responded: “You haven’t tasted MY liver sandwich!”
I thought about intervening, then decided to let my boyfriend handle it himself. I began eating, and scanned his face for clues as he did the same. Not once did he display a hint of dissatisfaction or disgust to his host. He didn’t flinch or even twitch. I was impressed.
When we were finished and it was time to go, my boyfriend rose from the table and said to my dad: “You really do make the world’s greatest liver sandwich, Mr. Dowling, thank you!”
I married him. It’s been 35 years and he hasn’t eaten a liver sandwich since.
April 23, 2010
Time for another installment in our series of true-life stories about food and manners, submitted by our wonderful readers in response to our first Inviting Writing prompt. (You can read the first story here.) Today’s tale comes to us from Christine Lucas, a writer in Savannah, Georgia.
By Christine Lucas
I learned from a very young age that two sets of manners existed. There were those for at home—where one could fold their legs over the arm of a chair, and use a paper towel for a napkin—and there were those for Nanna’s house. She required that food be eaten like a lady. Sandwiches were cut in four pieces. Donuts were cut in two. Subs, well, they were pureed and ingested through a straw. (Not really, but you get the idea.)
Nanna held court in her dining room. From one end of the table, she’d orchestrate the passing of food like she was calling a game. “Romie’s plate is open! Quickly, Dianne passes the carrots to the far end of the table. Loretta assists with the butter. Christine moves in with salt which is intercepted by Bob who needs it for his corn.” The only real defense against more food would have been to throw your plate out the window like a frisbee, and our manners prevented such an act.
After one Christmas dinner, Nanna had my aunt reach into a cabinet and pull out a box of Russell Stover candy. Nanna carefully removed the cellophane from the box, like a man helping a woman from her dress. “Aren’t they beautiful?” she said tilting the box for the rest of us to see. Eight cups of brown wax paper each held a petit four. “Look at how wonderfully they are decorated.”
The box was passed for us each to admire. No one had been given permission to take one yet, so we simply cooed on command as they went around the table. But what was that smell? Paraffin?
“Mother, where did you get these?” Aunt Dianne asked.
“Dr. Roberts gave them to me,” Nanna told her.
“Dr. Who?” Aunt Dianne asked again. She was usually the one to take Nanna to appointments, and she didn’t remember a doctor by that name.
“You know, Dr. Roberts,” Nanna repeated. “From—”
Aunt Dianne’s mouth dropped open as she remembered the person in question.
“Mother! Dr. Roberts died nine years ago! These candies are a decade old!”
Nanna clearly didn’t see why that was important and began offering them to us. “What’s the matter?” she asked. “The air didn’t get to them. They were wrapped in plastic.”
Caught between an ancient piece of cake and a hard place, we each began saying how delicious dinner was. What else was there to do? Nanna had no pets. If we discreetly dropped the waxy treats on the floor, they’d surely still be there at Easter. “The ham was so succulent,” I said. Hadn’t we all had seconds and thirds? “Those carrots were fantastic,” my husband added. We all nodded at each other like bobble heads on a dashboard.
Only after someone flipped the box over and revealed a seeping blue-green stain did Nanna concede that Dr. Roberts’ gift was no longer edible. Too bad. I’m sure she had wanted to dig into the box the moment he gave them to her—but that wouldn’t have been polite.