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Thursday, 30 April 2009

The Asparagus Tale

By Johna Ferguson

It happened so long ago, 1935, one would think I could finally forget it, but no, the memory of it is seared into my mind. It was the first time in my life that I had received such treatment and I was shocked.

I was five years old and my father, mother, sister and I were seated at the dinner table. Sundays were always special since my father, a doctor, often was not home in time for the family dinner.

The maid brought in the food for my father to put on our plates. We were having baked salmon thanks to our friendly mailman, a patient, who kept us supplied from his weekly catches. Also we were having mashed potatoes from my mother’s vegetable garden. She even made her own butter in just a small whipping jar if we could get the cream from another patient. It was during the Depression and money was tight, so patients often paid their bills with food.

Then I spied the vegetables; one was asparagus, something I hated. I had never tasted it but had seen it once at one of my mother’s luncheons, the slim green stalks on an aspic salad, like a dead body lying in its own blood. But then I saw my father also dish up my favorite vegetable, fresh peas from our garden. Dinner was beginning to look better.

After grace, I dug into the peas then the mashed potatoes, leaving the salmon for last. I just ignored the asparagus as I’d already had my green vegetable for the day. Once I finished my salmon, I sat and waited for the maid to clear the dishes, but she didn’t come; my mother had not rung the little bell on the table to summon her.

All of a sudden I realized everyone was looking at me. “Is there something wrong?”

Mother said, “Yes, you haven’t cleaned your plate yet.”

I looked down at the pile of asparagus pieces. “Mother I don’t like it, and anyway I ate my peas like a good girl.”

But she was firm; she told me I must at least take a bite of it or otherwise they’d all just sit there, waiting. I had dreamed of dessert, fresh lemon pie I’d seen in the kitchen, but I just couldn’t get up the nerve to taste the asparagus. Finally my sister kicked my leg under the table so hard and gave me such a terrible look I decided I’d better at least try one bite.

By bite, I meant just a tiny piece but instead, my mother loaded my fork for me with four pieces. I told my father, always so kind, that I hated the look of it and also the smell. “Couldn’t I just be excused without dessert and go to bed?”

But he said, “Your mother has told you what to do, I can’t change that.”

I had a sudden sinking feeling, but decided it was the only way out. I didn’t even have any potatoes left to disguise its taste with. I put the entire fork-full in my mouth, chewed and gulped it down but I gagged and out came the entire lot all over the freshly ironed white linen table cloth. I just couldn’t help myself.

My mother was furious, I don’t think so much at me, but at the possibly stained table cloth. She grabbed me by the arm and told me I had to sit at the top of the basement stairs until I decided that I could eat asparagus. I hated the basement, I was afraid to go down there alone out of fear of the dark corners.

The landing at the top was about three feet square so I huddled in one corner, but then after she shut and locked the door, she also turned out the basement light. Truly I thought I would die. I howled and screamed, but it was no use; either she couldn’t or wouldn’t hear me. Finally the maid let me out, but warned me not to tell my mother. I silently crept upstairs and climbed into my bed and fell asleep out of pure exhaustion.

Nothing was ever said about that incident, but I noticed that asparagus was never served, not even when I returned on weekends from college or after my marriage. To this day the memory is still so fresh I cannot even think of trying asparagus again.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Your memory jogged one of mine. I was also five years old and had gone to "call for" my friend who lived next door. I found her at the kitchen table with a bowl of creamed spinach in front of her. Her mother had said she could not leave the table until she ate it. She sat there with a flushed red face and tears running down her cheeks. Finally she forced some down and promptly gagged and upchucked right into the bowl. It made such an impression on me that I've never forced any of my children or grandchildren to "eat their vegetable," just encouraging them to taste a teaspoon if they thought they could. A "no thank you portion." And they often did not eat vegetable, but they had fruit and that was good. And as adults they all love their veggies -- all of them.

Johna - What a wonderfully written and vivid memory!

This truly will go down in American Folklore as one of the two great 'vegetable turn-offs.' President George H W Bush Senior's aversion to broccoli and Johna Ferguson's aversion to asparagus! - Sandy

Same thing happened to me except it was corn. I never had to eat corn again, until I got married that is, when my wife sick of the silliness made me eat corn. I love corn now.

I cannot, to this day, eat fish as a result of being forced to eat it when I was a girl.

Hello Johna,

Loved your story. It brought back a lot of dinnertime memories to me.

The vegetable I detested was brussel sprouts, which my Mother loved and served often.

Fortunately we had a cat that would eat anything and he always sat under my chair at dinner. I passed him the 3 sprouts that I was supposed to eat.

That cat must have had the same digestive system that humans have because in less than an hour great clouds of gas would fill our living room and everyone in the room would look around to find the guilty party; and Roscoe the puss would be walking around very nonchalantly expelling this methane and looking innocent.

Because my parents could never really find the guilty party my Dad suggested we go easy on the Brussel Sprouts in the future;and we did. Case closed on sprouts!

The story brought up memories of our cocker spaniel, Freckles. Freckles was omnivorous, happy and fortunate to find a place under the table when we were stubbornly refusing to eat something. Today I am sure mom and dad were aware when we slipped our horrible veggies to the dog, but in those days we thought we were getting away with something.

(Re. methane... this was never an issue because the default in our family, whether in the car or in the house or on the porch on a still summer evening, the default was always "the dog did it."

Luckily I loved all veggies except Okra. That was not a problem because my mother never served it. But my poor step-sister had been raised by a mother who only served beans and when she came to live with us she had never tasted most veggies. Like most children she decided she didn't like them. My step father would make her eat them before she could leave the table or have dessert. She would sit there for hours with spinach in her mouth and wouldn't swallow it. Mom felt sorry for her and encouraged her to quickly swallow it. All to no avail.

Happily when she was an adult she ate everything.

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