The Toppest Top Chef

Perhaps I should have read this book. But it wasn't written when I needed it most.

Picnics, according to Lorna’s reliable sources (TV and movies), were supposed to be fun-filled. Were they?

My father’s parents owned a lake camp. They had an annual family reunion every summer. I dreaded these events, never liking big crowds of people I didn’t really know. Most of my aunts and uncles believed in being fruitful and multiplying. Swarms of inexplicably religious people in plaid shorts acted like one big happy family. Maybe they really knew each other and were happy to be together; I just never felt the love. Memorizing their names and connecting who belonged with whom was enough to give a kid a headache.  Like Noah’s Ark, my aunts and uncles came in twos, making Mom noticeable for more than her stunning good looks. Her mate—Bobby—was visibly missing. No one talked about him either.  My only link to them was Daddy and he never existed as far the Holy Masses were concerned. I wasn’t sure why I was invited.

Who are you people and why am I here?

Being a portly, klutzy child, I avoided all those cousins and their games requiring agility like volleyball, tag and floating on inner-tubes. Clinging to the adults seemed safer. As a result, I got early Intel on the menu.  There was Fanta soda pop, hot dogs and hamburgers, potato and macaroni salads, baked beans, a virtual rainbow of Jello salads, and Humpty Dumpty potato chips. Grandma made her specialty: Deviled Eggs, an odd choice for such a devout Methodist. The “T” and “t” in the recipe must have confused her, though. Her Deviled Eggs were so salty that only the older folks—the ones whose taste buds were shot—would eat more than one.

When Grandma announced, “Come and get it!”, I was already at the front of the line. My paper plate was a masterpiece of carefully positioned food. I juggled the piled-high plate and my can of orange Fanta to a safe spot near my sisters and mother.

Only half the plate is showing. It's a crime to capture only the top half of the Pietà...

Before the plastic fork-full of piping-hot baked-beans reached my mouth, I heard a loud “Ach-em.” At Grandma’s we had to wait for Grace before eating.  One of my many Uncle Ministers assumed the honor.

Let us all bow our heads in prayer. Oh, Loving God, as your humble servants …

We were supposed to keep our heads bowed and eyes closed like good Christians, but we weren’t in church.

“…We ask for your forgiveness every day. Release us from our worldly desires, Heavenly Father, and help guide us to better serve You. …”

Indeed, I desired my plate of food which wasn’t holding up very well.  I poked my hot dog and hamburger.  They were getting cooler at the same rate as the salads were getting warmer. Drats! I would come to understand this debacle as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Forgive me Lord and stop punishing my food.

Well, it wasn't that obvious...

I looked around and caught Lisa’s eye.  She was watching flies land on various plates of food.  We crossed our eyes at each other.  Then we rolled our eyes in the universal act of silent criticism.  By now my red and green Jello salads melted to form a purplish swamp. My potato chips and what looked like a mosquito were drowning in The Swamp. My masterpiece was now a horror movie.

“… Lord God Father Almighty, You grace us with not only Your forgiveness for our sins, but with the food and drink You provide. …

This got my attention.  God provided the food? Mom made the potato salad, not God. Did my aunt take false credit all these years for her famous baked beans?  The image of God in a celestial kitchen whipping up macaroni salad instead of fighting evil had me worried about the fate of humanity. I was hungry, confused, and miserable. My food-masterpiece was decomposing before my eyes and God was busy making the cupcakes when he should have been saving the world.

Well, he could still feed the hungry...and in no time flat!

“…You are our Rock and our Redeemer.  Dear Lord in Heaven, we praise You and thank You.  Amen.”

“Amen!” Voices rang out in joy for, I imagined, very different reasons among that crowd.  The adults then got their meat from the hot grill and cold salads and sodas from the coolers.  Old people really were wise.

I looked at the mud puddle that had once been a perfect collage of picnic food, picked out the drowned insects, and gobbled my now pathetic food before the paper plate disintegrated.  I was not the type of child to let the fate of the world or purple mush interfere with my appetite.

After eating, I felt a little sick. Now that my tummy was full, I could focus on worrying. Knowing what knew about God and all His duties, when did He have time to cook?

Pondering always works better with a floppy hat, glasses and a pipe...even if you're a little chubby blonde girl.

I figured Grandma knew but I was too scared of her to ask her. She was getting her Bibles out, anyway.

The more I thought about it, the less confidence I had in God and what I’d been told about Him. Either way, my aspiration to become a nun and be married to Jesus, who was a good-looking fellow in all the pictures I’d seen, faded fast.

I pray God bakes some cookies to go with this milk...What? I'm not "Nun Material?" And I look so good in black.

~ by Lorna's Voice on December 1, 2011.

36 Responses to “The Toppest Top Chef”

  1. I didn’t have a choice when it came to family functions. I had to go and be a polite good girl. You know the drill, Izzy!

  2. How unappetizing the food became…??? !!!! Yuk … and then you had to read more bible verses??? I’d be sick to my stomach, too. It’s a miracle you ever wanted to go back to anything that was going on at Gramdma’s and Gramdpa’s. Glad you survived the trauma.

  3. Wow, U, I’m impressed! You must be sick of me by now. Being an HSP, I feel for you… 😉

  4. Lorna, I am exhausted. I took your hint and spent the best part of the last 12 hours reading most of your back catalogue (and comments) – don’t say I am not thorough with the stamina of an ox on double duty.

    “Pickled” – see what you mean. I think we can safely rewrite the menu: Fried brain, pickled liver. Though your brain clearly wasn’t well done otherways you’d never accomplished – on the side – what you did. And your liver, being such a forgiving organ, will be as good as new again.

    So glad you only started your blog a few months ago. Wish I had joined you at the start. I now do have a blazing headache. Thanks for that.


    PS I did your test and I am “semi-insensitive” which figures and I am very happy about. According to the law of Lorna: “SIP – someone who isn’t bothered by the world at large, but has moments of human vulnerability, which probably annoy you.” Indeed.

  5. I was writing from “Little Lorna’s” perspective. Poor God didn’t stand a chance… 😉

  6. Glad to know you and I had the same priorities and that you enjoyed the post.

  7. Sorry to hear that. In what way?

  8. Thank you, Ursula! I’m planning on cremation, but I suppose my brain could be pickled before the match is lit. You haven’t read the posts that talked about my 10 year bout of alcoholism during which my brain was pickled, so it wouldn’t be a new sensation… 😉

  9. Lorna, I’ve said it before and am not afraid of repeating myself: When the time comes your brain (if that is where one’s psyche resides) should be pickled for posterity. Various headings for the specimen come to mind.

    Your grandmother clearly had no understanding of logistics and how to organise a crowd. FIRST you pray (if you must), THEN you open the buffet. She’d have made a terrible conventions manager.

    At least YOU had your priorities right: Eat first, think later.


  10. Lorna..I am surprised by this post of urs.I find it quite mean.;(

  11. I was always at the front of the line when it came to food.
    This post was a delight to read. Loved it Lorna 🙂

  12. I’m glad you enjoyed this story. Most of my posts are stories that will find their way into my memoir. Right now, I’m dealing with memories of my father’s side of the family. The next post is going to be a bit dark, but I tried to lighten it up with silly pictures and captions.

    Other posts (not memoir-related) are all tongue-in-cheek, silly stuff. I look forward to hearing what you think.

  13. Ah, memories…for better or worse, they with us to stay. 🙂

  14. Good one!

  15. On the other hand, I’m thinking Heaven with an entire collection of folks just like your Grandmother isn’t any picnic either. (pun intended) 🙂

  16. This took me back straight to my childhood family picnic reunions. I was a very shy and introverted child and those large gatherings had me feeling very tense. Introductions of elderly aunts, uncles twice removed and half brothers and step sisters and on and on… Overwhelming! The food was really good though and I don’t remember having to watch it disintegrate while waiting for an extra long grace to be said.

    Your description of your food “decomposing” before your very eyes had me giggling!

  17. I love it! I see I am going to totally love your sense of humor! 🙂

  18. There are so many reasons why the convent thing wouldn’t have worked out. If only you knew, Al. If only you knew… 😉

  19. Thanks so much! It is awkward when people break into prayer as you are about to break into your meal. 🙂

  20. I’m channeling “Little Lorna” that clever girl Grandpa admired so much. Thanks for laughing when I hoped readers would laugh.

  21. Wow. I’d have a lot fewer relatives if that was the rule… 😉

  22. Smart girl. 🙂

  23. My Grandma would say they are all Jezabelles just trying to lure you to the dark side. Stay strong, T!

  24. I’d never try to create a ruckus during Grace. Not me. I don’t do well in heat and Hell is, from what I hear, pretty hot. 😉

  25. Lorna, I love the way you describe these experiences! Your writing style put me right there in the middle of the action.

    I felt like I was sitting right there in one of those cheap folding chairs on hard grass, right next to you shooing away the flies, impatiently waiting for the soliloquy to end, and trying to make someone laugh out loud, just so they’d get in trouble! 🙂

  26. ooooh dinner at your family’s table…so much amazing fun…. and just to let youknow about the question you asked me… nothing in the water down here, you gotta get out more often to see what these girls do…oh my Lorna…oh my…


  27. So funny, but my 8 yo daughter had this conversation with me not too long ago regarding saying grace. “Why do they thank God, didn’t they cook the food? And didn’t the farmers grow it? And the truck drivers deliver it? We don’t thank them. I mean I guess God made the world, so we’d have no food if we had no world, but we wouldn’t be here either. Shouldn’t we just thank God for making the world, not our food?” I just smile back at her.

  28. Grace should be limited to no more than 7.5 seconds. Any longer than that and the grace sayer should be struck by lightning.

  29. LOL … again and again and again…

    “now that my tummy was full, I could focus on worrying”

    Love the way you think and get your words all in a row. Lucky us! Thanks for the giggles 🙂

  30. I was raised as an atheist and it makes me smile to read of Christian meals. Occasionally I was blindsided at a meal out, where I was suddenly in the midst of a prayer after putting food in my mouth. Sweaty hands, nausea, terror were all my responses – as well as being unsure what to do with that mouthful of food.
    As always, I love your blog!

  31. I’m starting to feel a lot better about coming from a very small family. Both my wife and I had only one sibling and very few aunts and uncles and cousins as well. Not only have we never experienced the “picnic from Hell” but our Christmas card list is mercifully short.

    I’m kind of glad the convent thing didn’t work out, ’cause then you would have been blogin nun.

  32. Amen!

  33. Ouch! Just the though of an apron whipping from The Almighty makes me glad I let my meal decompose. 😉

  34. Yikes. I agree with Tilly Bud. Poor God…that wasn’t the plan.

  35. You didn’t dare to pinch off a bit of hot dog during prayer? Nobody would’ve seen you bus sis, right? But I’m very familiar with fire and brimstone sermons, being from the south and all. God would’ve probably broken away from the kitchen, slung His apron to the side and wholloped you on the behind Himself.

  36. It’s sad when fanaticism gets in the way of a good relationship with God. And a plate of good food 🙂

Silence can be just what the doctor ordered. You know I'm a doctor, right?

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