It was a rare summer morning that my great-grandmother did not cook a huge breakfast. Often, there would be a dozen or so of us packed around the table covered with bacon, eggs, biscuits, gravy, sausage, sometimes pancakes. I formed a lifelong love of biscuits and gravy at that table. But that morning, there was no breakfast.
My cousins, Becky and Sam, and I didn't really mind, as much as we loved those breakfasts, because that meant we got to have cereal. Cereal was something of a treat down at my great-grandmother's, because there wasn't often an occasion to have it. My aunt kept it around, though, just in case. I'm sure I was having something with those fake marshmallows in it, because my mom would never buy those kinds of cereals for home. Probably Boo-berry. The adults were all gone off somewhere, so it was just the three of us.
"I wonder if cereal would be good with ketchup on it," said Sam as we were sitting down. To put this statement in context, Sam ate everything with ketchup on it. Well, everything except cereal, evidently. Ketchup on his mashed potatoes. Ketchup on his eggs. He would literally trail the ketchup over everything on his plate for things like Thanksgiving dinner. It was kind of gross.
Not that it was entirely his fault. As a baby, in order to get him to eat baby food, my aunt would mix ketchup into it, so it was a flavor he couldn't separate from the idea of food, and, at not yet 10 (he was three years older than me), he certainly didn't have the willpower on his own to try. Heck, he was still eating everything like that when he graduated from high school.
Becky gave him an immediate response, "It would be gross."
"I'm going to try it."
"No, you're not."
"Who put you in charge?"
"I'm the oldest." And, indeed, she was. By a few months.
"So. You're not the boss of me."
"That's gross. You can't put ketchup on your cereal."
Sam turned to me, "Do you want to try ketchup on your cereal?"
"Well, I'm going to."
Becky was getting mad, "No, you're not!"
"You can't stop me!" And Sam got up from the table to fetch the ketchup bottle from the kitchen.
"If you put ketchup on your cereal, you're going to eat it!"
"Of course, I'm going to eat it. It's going to be great!"
Sam sat down at his bowl. I stopped eating to watch him. This was before the days of squeeze bottles, so he had to wait to for the ketchup to slowly make its way to the lip of the bottle. The three of us sat there watching, waiting, until finally a blob of ketchup fell onto the cereal. He slowly circled around the bowl, making a red ring. By the time he returned from putting the ketchup away, his milk had turned pink.
Becky and I were finishing up our bowls of cereal as Sam spooned up his first bite.
"You're going to eat all of that!"
"I already said I am!" and he popped the bite of cereal into his mouth.
But he didn't swallow it. He did that thing that people do when they put something too hot in their mouths but don't want to spit the food out. Trying to hold it in their teeth so that their tongues don't get more burned. But it was cereal, and that didn't work. He couldn't get his tongue away from it. Or the pink milk he'd created.
"Swallow it," Becky commanded.
But Sam's face came down over his bowl, and the glob of cereal fell out of his mouth into his bowl.
"I told you it was going to be gross," Becky smiled. "Now, you have to eat it."
"I'm not eating that!"
"Yes, you are! You agreed!"
"I'm not eating that! It's disgusting!"
"Well, you're not leaving this table until you eat it!"
"You can't make me!"
Becky squinted her eyes at Sam and gave him a hard look, "Yes, I can."
And she could, too. Sam and I both knew it. There had been an... altercation... proving it not all that long before. But Sam was my idol. Not that I didn't also look up to Becky. After all, she'd beaten Sam up in my defense, but I spent the whole summer with Becky every year and saw her on holidays and other times besides. Sam, I only saw a few times a year, so he automatically went up in esteem due to the limited time I had with him. Not to mention that he was also a boy. But I was backing Becky all the way on this one.
After all, the conditions had been clearly set at the outset, and Sam had agreed to them. It was only right that he eat the cereal.
So we sat there, the three of us. A battle of wills between my cousins, and me growing more and more bored by the minute. I wasn't good at bored. But, then, what 6ish year old is?
In the end, Becky and I left Sam sitting there at the table with the admonishment not to leave until he'd eaten that cereal. Under threat of "telling." But I no longer cared; I just wanted to go play.
I'm not sure how long he sat there at the table staring at that bowl of pink milk and the soggy substance within, but he did eventually join us. That meant a trek back to the house so that Becky could verify the truth of his statement that he'd eaten the cereal. There was no sign of it, and a search couldn't turn it up. She even looked under the table. Ironically, Sam had actually hidden the bowl under the table as he told me later, but in the time it had taken Sam to find us, someone else had found the cereal and dumped it into the tray for the dogs outside.
Let me just be clear about this: the dogs would eat anything. They got all of the table scraps all the time, and they always ate everything. Including boiled okra. But they didn't eat that cereal. Much later in the day, Becky and I found it in the dog tray. Hours and hours later. Stinking in the heart of a summer day in East Texas. Flies buzzing all around.
Sam was lucky that day. He'd had to leave for some reason that I don't remember, which is why he wasn't with us when we found the cereal. Becky would have pounded him if he had been. She wanted to remember to beat him up later, but, by the time we saw him again, she'd forgotten.
My oldest son and I were at the grocery store recently when we were both overcome with a desire for peppermint bark. I love peppermint bark. Actually, I just love peppermint, especially with chocolate. Most mornings, I have peppermint cocoa or a peppermint mocha as my morning beverage. However, buying peppermint bark wasn't really an option as we have a fairly firm prohibition in our household about buying candy. Especially when the kids still have buckets of the stuff from Halloween and more coming at Christmas. But! The conversation about how we both wanted peppermint bark lead my son to decide that he needs to invent peppermint and peanut butter as a "thing."
I had an immediate flashback to the above story about the cereal and ketchup which I then related to my son. He was unimpressed and maintains that his idea is going to be "Epic!" "Awesome!" and, even, "Epically awesome!" I remain skeptical.
Which is not to say that I don't think he should try it. After all, I imagine that there were people who were skeptical about the first mixture of peppermint with chocolate or peanut butter with chocolate. Which is his whole rationale behind this madness. If both of those items, peppermint and peanut butter, are good with chocolate, it must be true that they will be good together. My taste buds are already recoiling at the thought. (But we don't have any peppermints in the house, at the moment, so he hasn't been able to try this atrocity. Yet.)
Still, how often do we find that things we don't think will go together actually meld quite well. Like the accidental discovery of a friend in high school that french fries are really good in vanilla ice cream (seriously, he was just playing with his food, and trying to gross everyone out at the table when that discovery was made). That became a thing with us at McDonald's after that. And I had a friend in college who loved thousand island dressing on pepperoni pizza (I couldn't get behind that one, but he loved it). Or, you know, science fiction and fantasy. Who'd a thought, you know, before it was actually done the first time.
So... even though I foresee a disaster approaching of the magnitude of "Don't leave that table until you eat every last bite of that," part of me wants it to be good. Because it's trying things that don't seem to go together that makes life interesting.
[It's Thursday again. Man, these things just keep happening, don't they? The new Tib chapter is posted up there in the Tiberius tab (or you can just click here). This one is called "The Cop." Next week will be the first appearance of the man with no eyes in the chapter that will be called "The Police Car."
Also, I only have a few copies left on hand of The House on the Corner, so, if you want a signed copy in time for Christmas, order now! I'll be ordering more copies soon, but I'm not sure if they will get here in time to be sent out before Christmas.]