“Abby, stop scooting that thing around on the tile. It leaves black marks.” My mom didn’t even look up from counter where she was slathering mayonnaise and mustard on 9 slices of bread. A whole baloney and cheese sandwich for her, Jennifer, Kelsey and myself. Only a half for our youngest sister, Rachelle. Lunch was always a sandwich, varying between salami, baloney and pbj.
“Mom, can you buy turkey next time? It’s lower fat.” I shoved the ugly, claw-footed piano stool back under the reception table in the kitchen, skipped to the bar and hitched my left leg up on the end barstool. It’s comfortable standing there like a pelican, on one leg.
“Did you get this new cookbook when you went to the lake with Ronda and Gwen,” I asked. A homeschooling mom of four girls, once a year, Mom tried to take a long weekend with her girl friends to recharge.
“Yes. Your dad’s cholesterol was high last time he visited the doctor. Ronda mentioned that she’s been using that low-fat, no-fat cookbook at home and the recipes are good. We won’t have to change much, because we eat pretty healthy, but I want to try and cut out a little fat for heart health.”
“Hmmm. These do look pretty good. Can I try making a couple?”
“Sure, pick one or two out and when we go to the store on Thursday I can pick up the ingredients. You’re at the age where you can really help out in the kitchen, and it’s a good skill to learn early. I sure didn’t know much about cooking when I was fourteen!”
The first thing I made was low fat chicken divan. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so obviously gross if full fat chicken divan hadn’t been one of my grandma’s signature meals.
“Well, I’m not sold on low fat food.” My dad refused seconds. “No thanks. I think I’ll just have some ice cream for dessert.”
“I picked out no fat vanilla yogurt for dessert,” I told him.
Jennifer made a face. “Is there any mint chocolate chip left from last week?”
“Probably. Will you pass me the chicken,” I pointed across the table. “I think it’s pretty good. You just have to adapt your taste buds. Less fat is healthy.” The fat free cheese sprinkled on top of the casserole had cooled and formed a brittle plastic-like sheet. And I had chosen not to grease the pan, less fat, so half of the chicken breast remained glued to the bottom of the pan.
Over the next couple weeks, my family vetoed nearly all the fat free substitutes. The cheese was rubbery. Fat free butter tasted like plastic. Skim milk looked like water.
“J,” my dad used Mom’s first initial most of the time when he wanted her attention. “I’m done with this fat free stuff. I’ll start swimming laps again for heart health, but I want to enjoy what I’m eating.”
Give me a break, I thought. I can do this. Apparently, I have more self discipline than the rest of you. In fact, I can up my workouts a little too. I’ll be the thinnest, strongest one in the family.
And so it began. I thought I was choosing self-discipline as my niche. While others honed their skills in sports, music or academics, I employed my iron will to prove that I could be the most obsessive exerciser and eat the fewest fat grams of anyone.
“Mom, can I go to Safeway with you?” I hurriedly added peaches and instant rice to the bottom of my personal grocery list. “I want to pick up a few of my things.”
“Seriously, Abby. Why do you need ‘your’ things? Can’t you just eat what the rest of us are eating?”
“Please, Mom. I’ll pay for my own things.”
“I guess. But you have to share with everyone if someone wants it. You’re not going to label your own food in the refrigerator.”
I knew no one was going to touch my waxy, fake-food choices, so I agreed.
That night, Dad grilled chicken. That’s safe enough. I would have volunteered to make the salad, but I wanted to keep an eye on Dad. Just to make sure he did it right.
“Do you have to put that much sauce on there, Dad?” Globs of sticky, red paste dripped from the bristles of his baster. They were stiff and splayed after years of painting food yummy. Mom used the same brush for butter on the top of her homemade bread. I wonder if there is any lard still on the bristles? Will it come off and add calories to the chicken?
“I tell you what, can you just leave it off my piece? I think that brand is a little to spicy for me.”
Dad shrugged. He sat down beside me in our well worn plastic lawn chairs. The chair groaned a little beneath his frame.
I have good genes. Both Mom and Dad are relatively trim for their height. Growing up in the same small Oklahoma town, they swam together on the Phillips 66 swim team. Every single day for most of their young lives, they had logged 3-5 miles in the pool. Their affinity for activity rubbed off on their four daughters.
“After dinner can we play a game of horse?” Shooting hoops is a pretty good workout.
“That sounds fun.” Dad agreed. “But I want to let dinner settle first.”
I hate the thought of food settling heavily in my stomach.