Locusts. That’s probably the closest image I can develop when I try to describe how I and my brothers ate when we were kids. We were locusts. We loved food when we were kids. (If you look at our family portraits, you know that we’re not starving now, either.)
While there are people who talk about “enjoying” food, we were not those.
Those people are enjoyers.
We were shovelers.
We didn’t care what we ate, as long as we had enough of it. While my mother made delicious meals of Cajun, Italian or Tex-Mex food, Dad understood that we boys did not actually taste our food. (Note to my mother: I love your food. Don’t quit cooking. I’m talking about Dad here. Your food is great.)
So, when Dad was in charge of dinner—which came mostly when Mom had to work nights—we knew the code: “frozen five high. “
“Frozen five high” came from months of experimentation and food testing. Hormel didn’t do as much testing as we did to come up with the “frozen five high” code. “Frozen five high” simply meant that each boy could have a packet of frozen hot dogs apiece, put it in the microwave on five minutes, high. Remember, this was back when microwaves only cut out about an eighth of the cooking time. Microwaves now could cook up these hot dogs in a quarter of the time, but we had an old one, so “frozen five high” was the standard.
That was dinner. Each boy got a packet of hot dogs. Meal time. Remember, we’re locusts, so ten hot dogs with buns was the first course. Dad could, and did, join in the eating, shoveling in food as fast as he could. You could barely see our hands because we were stuffing our faces so quickly. It was great. It wasn’t healthy. It was a little scary. But for a young kid, it was great.
Dad knew how to make food special, to create interesting concoctions for special occasions. When it got cold in the winter, he’d put a pot of red beans on the wood stove to cook all day. When he didn’t want us to eat, he’d make corn bread. (his corn bread’s the worst). Every night, he’d eat cereal. I know each of us boys have eaten bowls of cereal at 9pm, thinking of Dad.
In our house, food wasn’t just for enjoyment, though. It was a marker, a reason to celebrate or to have a special connection. Dad knew that, mostly because he helped create the culture of food and love.
Out of all those special times, though, I think I like Saturdays the best.
He’d go down to the day-old bread store—he called it the used bread store—and he’d get a bunch of honey buns and creamy curls. He’d come home and put those sweets in the freezer and he’d take out the frozen sweets that he’d bought the previous Saturday, and that’s what we’d have Saturday mornings.
If you’re wondering whether I am morbidly obese from these food memories, I’d say no. (The Centers for Disease Control would say no, too.) We ate mostly healthy food when I was young, but it wasn’t served by my father.
Mom used food to nourish us, both in a physical sense as well as a cultural sense. We all three know how to cook and eat because of my mother’s great work. My father used food to nourish us in an emotional sense. While emotional eating has gotten a bad rap lately—I always see people crying on TV when they talk about emotional eating—connecting emotions to food is not a bad idea.
Food--even junk food--can create intersections between people when intersections come tough.
For Dad, feeding us was a way of showing that he cared, but it was also a way for him to enjoy watching us do something. If you’ve ever seen a bunch of young boys—locusts—eat, you know how fun that can be. Even if it was a packet of frozen hot dogs tossed in the microwave and watched them being nuked, dad loved watching us eat. And we enjoyed it, too.