Tall Thought 27: Sunday / by Jennifer Wisniewski


"The Cantaloupe Tales"

“Well, yeah, I'm looking at all this food, I see all these vegetables, and I think, all these things came outta the ground. I see tomatoes, outta the ground, carrots, outta the ground, radishes outta the ground. And I think, all of these things come outta the ground. And I'm just talkin' about the vegetables, I haven't gotten to the fruits yet. And I think, how can that be? How can all these things come outta the ground? With all these things comin' outta the ground, there must be a God.” -Tin Men

My mother grew up on a farm in Wilkes Port, Canada. Her parent’s names were Earl and Eleanor, if that gives you any indication of her grim Oliver Twist-ian childhood. On their farm they raised corn and livestock. When she was ten years old (my daughters age now), she went in to town with her father on a mission to make the oats finer, in order to feed the pigs. They arrived, Earl got out, and then he left her there alone … for two days. (He was a true blue alcoholic). There was nothing to eat inside the pickup truck, except for cantaloupe. In order to survive, she would open it up by smashing it on the ground so she could eat the insides. This went on for two days, until he finally returned.

To make this story a little more gut wrenching: she never told a soul. She never went to find anyone or screamed for help. It was another era, where people just weren’t as aware as we are now. (Side note: The other day I was getting out of my car at Whole Foods and someone left their dog in the car. I first double-checked if the windows were down, and then I thought should I go and speak to someone in customer service.)

I discovered this story much later in life. We were at Sabatino’s for dinner, and at the end of the meal they leave you a plate of fruit – one of the choices being cantaloupe. I asked Mom if she was going to eat it and she refused, stating, “I don’t touch cantaloupe” – and then she confessed her traumatic childhood incident. I was confused. “We had cantaloupe every day during the summer”, I recalled aloud. “I know”, she replied. “You girls liked it, so I always bought it.”

When I was little, we had every kind of food imaginable around. Every fruit, vegetable and junk food. I would go from eating Lucky Charms, to dining on frog legs – all in a day. I would run home after school and grab whatever she would put on the table. Mom would say with admiration, “Jenny is always happiest when eating.” No preaching, no judgment. I was never told to stop eating, or that I shouldn’t eat that third cookie, or that something was bad for me. Food was benign. “If you don’t eat your vegetables – you don’t get dessert” was not a phrase I was familiar with. My sisters and I would have looked at my parents like they were nuts. To us, desserts, entrées and snacks were all the same … just food. Nothing more, nothing less.

With her words and actions, my Mother taught me a life lesson. When you love something greater than yourself, you don’t pass on your own painful past experiences. She also instilled in us that food was a blessing, and not a curse – no matter what form its in. As I see my daughter prancing around this summer with a piece of cantaloupe in her mouth, I will smile because it is a reminder to leave heartbreak where it belongs – in the past.

Thanks mom and happy belated Mother’s Day … I’m the worst daughter in the world!