Happy Birthday, Grandma. You mean the world to me . . . still. Always.
|Ana Maria Mayol - 1959|
The Horror of Mealtime
For a long time, I thought I had two names. First, there was Issa Maria Mas. Then, and this was the one I heard most from my Grandmother who was my main caregiver growing up, there was “Ai Dios mio, dame paciencia!” Abuela would say that so often, it took me a while to realize that what she was really doing was pleading to God for the patience not to strangle me! Mealtimes were especially difficult for us.
“Issa, comete la comida ante que se te enfrie.”
“Granma, I don’t care if the food gets cold, I’m not hungry.”
“Te vas a morir. Comete la comida.”
“Granma, I’m not gonna die. I had lunch.”
“Almuerzo? Eso no es suficiente. Estas demasiada flaca. Comekkmm.”
“I am not too skinny. And I’m not hungry!”
“Ai Dios mio, dame paciencia!”
This could go on and on for what seemed like forever to me, until one of two things happened: a) I would either eat some of the food just to make her stop torturing me, or b) my Mother would come in from work and rescue me from that never-ending struggle. Option A was my least favorite solution, because no matter how much I ate, Abuela was never satisfied.
“Muchacha, no comiste nada.”
“Granma, how can you say I didn’t eat ANYTHING? Don’t you see some food missing from my plate? Didn’t you see me put it in my mouth?”
“Pero todavia te queda tanto.”
“Of course there’s still so much left on my plate, I’m one 11 year old girl! You put enough food on there to feed a truck full of grown men!”
“Malcriada”, she would sneer at me.
It took me a very long time to truly understand the term “malcriada”. You see, “malcriada”, the way Abuela meant it, was used to remind me that I was being too sassy for my own good; a smart aleck. The funny thing is that the exact translation for “malcriada” is to say I was “raised wrong”. It was an odd thing to say considering she was the one raising me. This was merely one of the many contradictions and complexities I had to fight every day of my life.
This battle had been an ancient one. From the stories she would tell, she had been trying to get me to eat since I was a toddler. She would sit in front of my highchair and make the spoon fly around like an airplane to distract me so that she could catch me when I least expected it and stuff some food in my mouth. From what she says, sometimes I ate it. Sometimes, I would spit it out at Suki, the dog.
“Ai Dios mio, dame paciencia.”
Now, it wasn’t that I didn’t like Abuela’s food. Actually, she was a really good cook. It’s just that I think in Puerto Rico, during the time Abuela was young, they must have served food in gigantic pots, filled all the way to the top, and you were forced to Eat. It. All. She must never have gotten used to the fact that we ate on normal sized plates in New York because she still piled on the food as if I was going to be in the desert for the next week without a meal. No matter how many times I told her that it wasn’t that I didn’t like what she cooked, it’s that I wasn’t hungry, or that there was too much food on my plate, she still insisted that she had made me one of my favorite dishes and so I should be happy to eat it. All.
“Comete la comida, Issa.”
“I don’t want to eat, I’m full.”
“Pero a ti te gusta el bacalao.”
“I know I like the fish, Granma, I just don’t want anymore.”
“Pero si no comiste nada.”
“Granma, how can you say I didn’t eat ANYTHING?!?”
These days I can’t stop eating until every last grain of rice is gone. When I get as big as a carnival side-show act, and become a woman who is so huge that she has her own zip code, I will blame it all on Abuela. It won’t matter though. To her, I will always be “demasiada flaca.” Too skinny. Hah!