Purple People Eater

February 12, 2011

Sweet photograph of Mama and my grandfather, don’t you think? Ah, but don’t be fooled, gentle readers. What you’re really looking at is a 4-year old girl, minutes away from the Gulag.

Just after Mama’s fourth birthday, she was sent to Texas for the entire summer to stay with her maternal grandparents. On paper, this may sound rather nice but believe me, it’s not. Mammy and Papa, as they were called, were  sour, unsmiling creatures. To add insult to injury, Mama’s older brother Johnny, best pal and partner-in-crime, stayed behind.

Seems weird, doesn’t it? Why on Earth would a mother send just one of her children away for 3 long months?

As  Gramma Rhetta tells it, the reason Mama got the walking papers was because she was naughty. Blue-ribbon naughty.  Gramma Rhetta was pregnant with child #3 and bone-tired and couldn’t handle both of the kids, so she sent the troublemaker into exile.

I think this is hideous, but Gramma Rhetta remained unapologetic about doing so. She even told Mama, point-blank, that she was banished to Texas because she  was “full of piss and vinegar.”  Now don’t you reckon that all newly-turned four-year olds are full of those two things?

After a few hugs and a photo opportunity, Mama was sent on her way.  The Texas farm had cows, chickens, horses and a swimming hole, but not much else. What fun is a swimming hole when you’re the only kid for miles? Mama was stone-cold bored for 90 steamy days.

The only good thing to do on a farm with cows and chickens? Eat. Fresh butter, cream, eggs and home-churned ice cream kept Mama company that summer.  Mama greeted mornings with oatmeal topped with only the thickest of cream. When the afternoons became unbearably humid, she’d scamper to the ice house for wedges of watermelon and icy Orange Crush. Peach and cherry pie, molten and beckoning, sat on the kitchen counter.

When my mother was deposited back on her doorstep on Labor Day, my grandfather was aghast.

“Jesus!” he said. “What on God’s green earth did you feed that child? It looks like you’ve taken a bicycle pump to her, she’s so fat.”

Livid, he hollered for my grandmother. “Henrietta, come see what your mother’s done to Mary! It looks like she’s the one who’s going to foal.”  And with that, he huffed into the kitchen to fix a stiff gin.

Whenever I hear that story, I feel so lonely for Mama. What a homecoming, eh?  Mama can laugh about it now, but there’s a vein of sadness running through.

My grandfather had a thing about fat people. He told Grandma Rhetta, right before their wedding, “If you ever get fat, Henrietta, I’m divorcing you. Just so you know. Fat is grounds for divorce.”

He was typical Irish old-school: women were good for cleaning, cooking and prettying up a room.  He was also incredibly vain about appearances.  To him, a fat child was a personal affront.

Luckily for Mama, she was on the cusp of a growth spurt, and soon she was back to her skinny-legged self.  But the next summer, Mama and her older brother were sent to Texas. Johnny was given strict instructions to “Get Mary outside and run her, Goddammit.”

My grandfather could be a heck of a charmer, but this wasn’t one of his golden moments.

The following recipe will not fatten you up. Unless you pour tons of cream over the top, which I’m sure you aren’t going to do. If  you need a little extra padding though, go right ahead. The rest of us won’t mind a bit.

Last year, I broke up with oatmeal.  All my life, I’ve tried to like it. I have. But it just doesn’t do it for me. On winter mornings, Mama would cuddle up with a nice bowl of raisin-studded goodness, and I’d gag a little.  Even when topped with loads of brown sugar, oatmeal tasted like wallpaper paste to me.

I gave oatmeal a second chance when I embarked on Le Regime.  In all honesty, it’s still not my favorite dance partner.  But this recipe, with plump fruit and crunchy nuts and a little swirl of jam, goes down easily.  It’s got enough going on to keep things interesting, and heck, it’s awesome for the old digestive tract, so if you’re open to oatmeal, give it a try.

I made this recently on a -13 degree morning.  It was still dark outside, and the wind tossed the snow into frothy, ghost-like swirls.  The girls were still snug in their beds, lulled into slumber by the promise of a Snow Day. For a few minutes, I spooned warm oatmeal from a bowl and didn’t mind the sharp lick of winter.

Purple People Eater Oatmeal

adapted from Ellie Krieger

serves 2

1 cup old-fashioned oats

1 3/4 cups water

dash salt

1/4 cup dried fruit of choice (I chose a blueberry/cranberry/pomegranate mix but cherries or peaches would work well, too)

2 tablespoons jam, preferably made with just fruit (I used blueberry, thus the purple color)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons chopped nuts, slightly toasted (I used pecans)

milk, for serving

Bring the water, salt, oatmeal and dried fruit to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer on low, stirring occasionally, until tender–about 5 minutes. Stir in the jam and vanilla and remove from heat. Spoon into bowls, add a few splashes of milk, and top with nuts.

*If you like your oatmeal on the sweet side, feel free to add a drizzle of honey or agave nectar.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

ck February 23, 2011 at 6:29 pm

I miss you. I miss your words. Reading this was like inhaling crisp September air after a thick and humid summer.


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