Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween, Groberg style

For my mother, it was no coincidence that the words sugar and sin started with the same letter. Carob was more commonplace in our cupboard than chocolate. I was a teenager before I realized they were not the same thing. Everything was made from scratch, picked from our garden, or ground with our wheat grinder. We made our own yogurt from cultures grown on light boxes. Alfalfa sprouts grew underneath our sink. We purchased preservative-free peanut butter in gallon sizes. When we needed a new jug, we had to expend significant elbow grease to reunite the oil and the mushy nuts before it was cloaked in spreadability. Cold cereal only existed in the form of oatmeal that was ready to eat before I was. Vitamin C pills were as close to treats as we ever came.

So, when Halloween dared to come around, my mom had to get creative. While thoughts of candy bars and lollipops danced in our eyes, she was busy figuring out a way to thwart the sugar that would infallibly fall into our digestive tracts through school parties and the t-words. Trick or Treating. She came up with a meal stuffed with an assortment of the most disgusting vegetables, as if filling us up with vitamins and goodness would make us recoil at the sight of a Snickers bar.

She called it “Dinner in a Pumpkin”. The very phrase still gives my stomach nightmares. It was a goulash of meat and peppers and other spices cooked inside a real, down-to-earth, squashy pumpkin. We would scoop out the seeds, (to be roasted and eaten later, instead of our candy). She would slice up the fleshy pulp and inject all the ingredients. Then, our oven would host the unwelcome gourd for an hour or so while everyone but me dressed up in costumes and giddiness.

Every year I begged for an alternate meal. I offered to eat an entire plate of just green beans, or three corn on the cobs, or five bananas. I begged and begged. I hated pumpkin. I hated all stringy, pulpy squash. But, the rule of no substitutions applied on this night as it did on every other night of the year. There would be no mercy, no advocate would come to my aid. I had to eat the pumpkin or stay home from the one night where adults who normally intimidated and scared me gave me candy.

So, I would always eat it, trying my best not to chew. I would take the smallest of bites, and chase them down with water, choking and gagging my way through my alloted portion. When my plate passed inspection, off I would trudge to the nearest bathroom, each step echoing my displeasure with ‘dinner’.

The bathroom’s wallpaper was beige with pictures of planes, trains, cars, and boats. It spoke of happier times and carefree hobbies. It shuddered when Halloween came around. It knew why I was there. I would pull my hair back into a ponytail, kneel down and lift up the porcelain lid to evacuate the contents of my dinner and sometimes my lunch.

Stomach freshly scoured of any traces of vitamins and nutrients, I donned the hand-me-down costume earmarked for me and joined my siblings for our adventures in begging. We couldn’t go trick-or treating ad hoc. We were to go up and down our little street, and maybe, just maybe, hit a few houses on the side. But, any candy we got was like manna from heaven. For about an hour, we were the official owners of contraband. When discretion was our friend, some of the candy never quite made it into our bags.

Upon our return, we were allowed to select a few pieces. I would both savor and devour those favored items. Then, we dutifully turned the rest of our candy over to senior patrol. After that, I’m not sure were it went. Perhaps some of it was doled out periodically over the next few weeks. I’m more inclined to think my parents ate it surreptitiously. I think some of the less popular pieces made it all the way to our Christmas stockings.

As a mother of three perfect-for-trick-or-treating aged children, I am now faced with the dilemma. What do I feed them on All Hallows Eve? Dinner-in-a Pumpkin? Never. In fact, I’ve been tempted to tear ‘Dinner-in-a-Pumpkin’’s page from our family cookbook and offer it up in some fiery ritual. But, it would probably catch my hair on fire in some final act of vengeance. So, I reflect on my many trips to the wallpapered room of doom and always end up making macaroni and cheese -- their favorite. Better to stuff them with food they will actually eat, right? Then, when their little feet have had all they can of our vast neighborhood, home we go. They get to choose a few pieces to eat right then. The rest? Well, I’ve graduated now. I’m senior patrol. Surreptitious is my middle name.

P.S. While my childhood mind felt tortured by the lack of sugar, my mother obviously knew best. She has never spent a day of her life overweight. And, even though she had 11 children, and is now well into her 70s, she still doesn’t have any grey hair. Maybe there is something magical to Carob after all.


VikiViki said... that ME with the painted on smile? Figures! Nice story... I actually had some deja vu seeing the pumpkin with dry ice in it!

Liz said...

Wow Jennie! Between pumpkin and zucchini, you and John E. should write a Squash horror book! I find it somewhat ironic that of all 11 kids you are two of the most physically fit ones today. And as the least physically fit one, I'm trying not to draw any conclusions. Fantastic writing Jennie!

Diana Waite said...

I'm loving these pictures! Great story--your writing makes it quite VIVID! :)

Bojana said...

Zelo rada berem tvoje pisanje, res ti gre dobro, ni kaj! Vse dobro.

Susan said...

Great post!! Really well written. I'm just really in shock that you purged yourself! Wow, Jennie. Love hearing Halloween stories from the good ole days. We started a tradition in our home about 14 years ago to have soup (their favorite-potato) and bread in the shape of spiders. They look forward to that as much as the candy. Your mom probably is very wise, but I could never deprive my children of beloved candy!

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