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Thursday, September 21, 2006
THE BEET AND I
All of the spinach poisoning as of late has caused me to lie awake at night in fear of killer vegetables that once roamed the earth in yon days of Cushman Scooters and Packard Clippers. As a point of truth, if one was to play Franky Avalon backwards on their Sears & Roebucks hi-fi set they would have heard the insufferable prophetic words–"I will return in the next millennium as the Anti-Vegetable to destroy mankind."
Once again returning to the facts, my produce phobia started many, many years ago in a land called puberty where my parents spent way too much time trying to get me to eat nourishing vegetables. My mother would had better luck trying to teach a duck to sing opera.
Fortunately my parents were carnivorous Lutherans. Our family consumed pot roasts nearly as often as we bathed. Chicken, burgers, steaks, hot dogs and other assorted animal parts enthroned our table along with, of course, a plate of Wonder Bread and oleo. Meat, whether cooked on the G.E. oven or over the coals in the backyard, sustained my little body. If it mooed, cackled or oinked we ate it. And yes we had vegetables, gardens full of them.
Although we had the forbidden spinach patch, spinach never unnerved me as much as one vegetable–the beet. Those hideous ruby red globes were known to strip wallpaper if you cooked large quantities in an open kettle. Never in any biological studies had man considered the little head-in-the dirt vegetable poisonous, unlike the tomato which had been cursed throughout the Victorian age as a lethal dish.
My father took great delight in his homegrown beets. I can assure you his sensory depravation came from a Scandahovian upbringing. Quite often a Swedish table is set with all sorts of obnoxious sea foods of which spinach may or may not be part of, but I am sure beets are a national treasure. Dad's fondness towards the little red creatures caused him to grow what seemed to be acres and acres of Beta vulgaris, and my dear sweet mother canned them by the truckload.
I could always tell when my mother had the urge to kill me. In the early autumn, when the sounds of geese could be heard heading south, and the chill of the surrendered summer air had set in with the shorter days of October, a musky-dank odor crept over the neighborhood. Children in my classroom refused to sit near me because foulness permeated all of my clothing.
Year after year the story never changed for the those who were in charge of fostering and nourishing my tender youth–can beets, gag their daughter and nearly strike the death blow while she existed in a weakened condition, then never be arrested for their cruel and unusual punishment. Oh yes, I threatened to run away but where, I plead would a little waif like myself run too.
I knew if the vegetable police captured me the wardens would force me to ingest immense portions of beets for all three meals. Raw bets, cooked beets, curried beets, beet borsch and worse of all, fried green beets, would be shoved under my vaulted prison door. If I refused surely a large-bosomed matron would tie me down and force said vegetable down my throat.
My retaliation for beets climaxed one foggy December afternoon when my mother placed a huge bowl of the red devils on the table. My siblings harbored no ill feelings toward the ruby killer, yet it was known all across the family table that if I so much as touched the red blood to my tongue I would explode into a gastric eruption of Biblical proportions.
The problem is, and this has been proven in laboratory experiments, beets cannot be cut up into tasteless bits and covered with mashed potatoes and gravy in hopes of killing the taste. Another truism–all the ketchup in Toledo could not mask the moldy taste.
The innocent December day began when we, as a family unit, piled into my father's Rambler station wagon in order to shop for our annual Christmas tree. There was an air of excitement this day, though the sun chose to hide behind the gloomy clouds of Northeastern Ohio. All of our town seemed to be walking about in a festive holiday mood so prevalent in the days before the malls.
After the tree had been selected, we spent the rest of the afternoon at a company-sponsored Christmas program. Yes, it was the holidays and all we needed to do was wait for that long slide toward December 25th. Childhood was so divine.
When we arrived home the aroma of pot roast and baked bread filled our home. After supper we would put up decorations, dress the windows with stencils and Glass Wax™ and best of all hang the ornaments on the tree. There was just one thing between me and the tree–beets. The orders were given, clean your plate or there will be no tree decorating.
I pulled out all the stops. It became a showdown between mother and I. As long as those beets remained there would be no Christmas decorating. Child abuse comes no more contemptible than this. From around the corner my brother taunted me, "We are almost done. You better hurry or there will be no more room for you to decorate."
I became a desperate child. Could I consume the retched plate of beets staring back at me? "We are almost finished," returned the voice of my brother. "Oh, there it is, the angel, we almost have it to the top."
Mom had no intention of giving in. The clock ticked away. Without secret x-ray vision I had no idea how much truth my brother was dispensing. Calculations were running through my fevered mind–365 days before we decorated again. Ten little bites and the beets would be gone. Three huge bites and the plate would be clean. I opted for the three big bites and a large glass of Kool-Aid as a chaser.
With ferocity never known to my little body I chugged beets and ran to the livingroom. A bare tree sat in the corner. I'd been had. Next thing I knew a tremor developed deep within my stomach and before I knew it, the livingroom rug, the box of decorations and half the tree had been coated with a substance recently devoured in the three big bites.
Mother never argued with me over the consumption of beets again. The red stains on the carpet, although faded, remained embedded in the fibers, always serving as a permanent reminder of one girl's struggle with the sinister beet.
As a grown woman I have learned to eat my vegetables. I am my own boss. I cook my meals, buy my own groceries. At Christmas I decorate my own tree. But, this one thing I can guarantee you-there are no red stains on my carpeting