I realize that this is a little stream of consciousness, but if Virginia Woolf could do it so can I.
When Bill and I started dating, he often joined Grace and me for dinner. The first couple of meals Grace and I would exchange confused glances across the table while watching Bill eat. One night, after Bill returned home, I turned to Grace, “Man we can eat him under the table!”
I eventually discovered that Bill comes from a long line of small eaters. Bill and I met in September and by winter it was clear we were altar bound. It was time for me to make the trip to Wisconsin and meet the Steinbach family. His mother and father picked us up at the airport, immediately loving and friendly in that way the Mid-westerners seem to specialize. When we arrived their house, I met each of Bill’s four siblings one-by-one. After a while, I started to chuckle to myself. With the exception of Bill and his father, who are by no means large fellows, the rest of Bill’s family looked like escapees from the Keebler Elf family compound. Everyone is short and small boned, blond haired and blue eyed. Were it not for my dominant gene coloration I would have fit right in.
On this first visit, Bill’s mother served spaghetti one evening. She placed the medium sized bowl of a nested set of three white plastic mixing bowls (you know the ones everyone had in the 70s) full of pasta on the table. I glanced around at the 9 other people sitting at the table, “Well that’s my serving so I don’t know what everyone else is going to eat.” But, indeed, it was not my individual portion; I would have to share.
I grew up in a family where a spaghetti dinner included two huge pasta bowls filled to overflowing and two large bowls of meatballs, sweet sausage, spicy sausage, and bresola. Looking around the Steinbach table I felt a twinge of panic; I had never seen so little food for so many people. Surely we would all walk away hungry. But I was mistaken. As everyone passed around the bowl of pasta and the side dishes, which oddly included jello, and each took the world’s smallest portions. So I, when in Rome like, acted accordingly and planned on having a late night snack.
“I think I know why your family is so small,” I told Bill. This sounds funny coming from a midget like myself whose parents look like they fell off a wedding cake. The difference is that my family just arrived in America and is going to need a couple generations to compensate for generations of living at the bottom of the economic heap in Europe. Bill’s family has been in America forever. “I think you were malnourished. There just isn’t enough food on the table,” I continued. He laughed at me and went to sleep.
Years later Bill and I were visiting Wisconsin again. Bill’s folks had a dinner date planned so Kathy, Bill’s mom, had made us spaghetti for our dinner. She used a 2 quart-saucepan to cook enough pasta for 3 of us. I waited until she left the house and immediately commenced with making more pasta. Minutes later I heard the back door open. “Drat,” I thought. “What are you doing?” she asked me. “Making more pasta,” I replied sheepishly. Since then Bill’s mom has always made extra pasta and I have felt obligated to make sure all of it is gone by the end of the meal. Careful what you wish for …
Like many other busy families, pasta dinners were one of our routine family meals. In the past, I always ate almost twice as much pasta as Bill. After the feeding tube debacle this past spring, pasta went from being one of my favorite foods to one that I can barely tolerate. It simply takes up too much room in my stomach. So we no longer eat it very often.
Yesterday Amelia had her first horseback-riding lesson. My friend Kim graciously arranged for these lessons and picks up Amelia at school, takes her to the lesson, and brings her back home every Wednesday. I really wanted to see Amelia on the horse for the first time so Kim came and picked me up so I could watch her. This left little time for dinner preparation so I settled on pasta for the meal.
When we arrived home I put the pot on to boil. Amelia watched me pour the pasta into the boiling water, “You better put in more than that. That is not going to be enough.” She may look like she belongs among the Keebler Elves but she eats like a little Italian girl. “You know me,” I responded, “I always make too much or too little; I never get the amount just right.”
We ate our meals and the kids cleaned up the table. In a rare moment of sibling harmony, they began to sing, “On Top of Spaghetti.” I fed them the later verses and they continued to sing, making me smile.
After dinner Bill took the kids to the store to get snacks for their lunches because the Food Nazi made some unpopular selections on the last grocery order. A few minutes after they left, the coughing started. I made my way to the bathroom in time clutching a box of tissues and a towel. While I retched, I considered calling Bill and asking him to come home. I decided against it; I wanted the children to have their hour of normalcy. As the retching ended I lay on my side and put my head against the cold wood floor. I changed to pursed lip breathing.
I thought back to my therapy visit two days prior when I confessed that I couldn’t seem to use imagery. I am not a visual person. Perhaps it is because I have very poor vision and I learned at an early age not to rely too heavily on that sense. “I try to go to beautiful places that I have been, but I just can’t find any peace there,” I explained. I was relieved to learn that I didn’t have to go to a place. “Where do you go naturally?” he asked. “To a memory of being with another person, to a sweet moment in my life,” I replied. “Then that is what you should do,” he assured me.
I changed to diaphragmatic breathing to calm the physical storm. Closing my eyes I pictured Amelia and Aidan at the sink. I saw their little profiles: Amelia looking suddenly so much older and Aidan taller than I realized. I heard their sweet voices, in tune, singing together.
One top of spaghetti
All covered with cheese
I lost my poor meatball
When somebody sneezed
The fit ended. The children pulled me through it without ever knowing it occurred. How many times a day does it happen without me even thinking about it consciously? How many times a day do they pull me through -- the physical pain, the emotional pain, the unbearable retching, the loneliness – without ever knowing what they do for me?