The Toppest Top Chef
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.
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.
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.
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.
“…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?
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.
~ by Lorna's Voice on December 1, 2011.