Ordinary Time (ordinarytime) wrote,
Ordinary Time

Mashed Potatoes

I don’t have a lot of experience speaking Truth to Power, but I know about the power of lies. I was six years old when I told my first. And because the universe has an amazing sense of reciprocity, I immediately got a lie back in return. 
I can follow a trail of lies like breadcrumbs, back to that day. 
I am sitting on a red plastic chair at the gray laminate table in our kitchen on Stuart Street. My parents bracket the table like parentheses: my brother sits to my right, being a pest, because that’s what God invented him for. Across from me, where my mother can reach her, my sister sits in her high chair, humming as she eats. Mmm…mmm…mmm…. It’s against the rules to sing at the table – and humming is a type of singing, my mother has told me in no uncertain terms - but Stacey doesn’t count, because she is a baby.   Mmm…mmm…mmm.
On the table in front of me is Mt. Everest on a plate: a heap of cold mashed potatoes. My chicken leg is a greasy bone. The canned peaches are gone. I have even eaten all of the green beans in cream of mushroom soup, though I have tucked the mushroom bits beneath Mt. Everest. Now they sit there, those potatoes…white, lumpy, cold. And I must eat them because they are there.

I don’t like mashed potatoes.
“Everyone likes mashed potatoes,” says my father. “What’s not to like? They don’t even taste like anything! They’re just something to put butter and salt on.”
But they do taste like something. They taste like kindergarten paste.
I don’t like mashed potatoes.  
“Scott’s eaten his,” says my father. “He’s in the Clean Plate Club. He likes mashed potatoes.” 
 Scott’s eaten his. He’s in the Clean Plate Club. He likes mashed potatoes.

"What's that missy?  Let's  not have any lip now."
I try putting another pat of butter on. It sits there on that cold mountain like a frozen brick of dog pee. I turn over the shaker of salt, and it snows on Mt. Everest.
“Enough of that,” says my mother. 
Stacey has eaten all of her mashed potatoes – or rather, she’s eaten about half, and is wearing the rest. Baby fuzz sticks up like patches of crabgrass where her fists have left potato deposits. My mother sighs, pulls Stacey out of the high chair, and sits her on the edge of the kitchen sink. She starts The Wipe Down. 
My father tells me to clean my plate, and then I can leave the table. Those are the rules. My father is an elementary school principal, and principals like rules. Rules are what make my father sound like a principal, even when his voice isn’t coming out of the loudspeaker. 
Babies don’t have to follow rules, because you can’t reason with them. They don’t have any language. So you can’t make babies eat what they don’t like. They just spit it out. Or put it on.
I envy babies. What’s the use of having language if nobody listens to what you say? 

I don’t like mashed potatoes.      
When Stacey is finally clean, my mom takes her into the living room. She joins my dad and brother, who are watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Around the frame of the kitchen door I can just barely see the cheetah chasing down a young antelope. Eat or be eaten. That’s the rule of the wild.
I know the pounce is coming, but I still jump. 
My mother sees me and comes over to close the door. “You can watch TV when you’re done,” she says. “The Flintstones are on in ten minutes.”
The Flintstones are my favorite show. The Flintstones are not just a cartoon: they are a cartoon for grownups. The Flintstones are on at night. My parents watch the Flintstones. The Flintstones even star in their own commercials – where they smoke Marlboros. You can learn a lot about being a grownup by watching The Flintstones. 
Like the week before, when Fred and Barney got free tickets to the Saber Tooth / Mammoth game, then they found out it was the same night they promised to take Wilma and Betty to a prehistoric flower show. What to do? They dab on dots of boolahberry juice, and take to their beds. The Mesozoic Measles! What bad luck! No, you go to the flower show with Betty, dear. I’ll be fine
But when Fred and Barney come out of the sports arena they discover something they had not realized before – the flower show is right next door. And before you can say -  Uh-oh. The jig is up -   there are Wilma and Betty. Fred and Barney stutter and mumble excuses; Wilma and Betty put their hands on their hips, scold their husbands, turn up their noses, and walk away. But then the next day, Fred and Barney have red spots all over the faces. Turns out they are both allergic to boolahberry juice. Wilma and Betty have a good laugh, and all is forgiven.   
You can learn a lot about being a grownup by watching The Flintstones.
I take a bite of that mountain of kindergarten paste. I try to swallow, but my throat refuses to open, and I gag, loudly. I hear my mother heading for the door. “Sit down, Dorisanne,” my father says. “She’s fine.” I could choke to death in here, I really could.   Nobody would care.   
The Flintstones are a Modern Stone Age Family. They have pterodactyls that play records and pelican garbage disposals. They have a dinosaur for a pet. I don’t even have a dog to feed my potatoes to.
We do not have a garbage disposal at all, much less a pelican garbage disposal like the Flintstones.  But we have a sink. I stand on my chair, leaning over so I can see the drain where my mother rinsed the mashed potatoes out of my sister’s hair. No clog. 

No clog.
Here is my ticket to the Clean Plate Club. 
 I must move quickly like the cheetah, silently tipping the plate over the sink, waving it back and forth. The mashed potato mountain hangs there, defying gravity. I have to part it from the plate with my fingers. I turn on the water, and Mt. Everest erodes before me. Bits of mushroom re-surface like boulders. I wash all my troubles away.   
Then I push open the kitchen door, and announce: “Clean plate!”  
My mother raises one eyebrow, but says nothing. 
My father asks me if I finished all my potatoes. 
I hold up the plate for his inspection. “They’re gone,” I say. 
He gets more specific. “Did you eat all of your potatoes, Paula?”
 A moment of panic. Eventually, I know, those potatoes are going to leave the sink trap. Where are they going to they end up? In the bathtub?   In the toilet? Can they do that?
“Tell the truth, now.”
There is no escape. My father knows everything. The jig is up. 
He doesn’t want to spank me, but he has to, he says, or I will grow up to be a liar.  
"This is going to hurt me a lot more than it hurts you," he says.
I don’t have a lot of experience speaking Truth to Power, but I know about the power of lies. I was six years old when I told my first. And because the universe has an amazing sense of reciprocity, I immediately got a lie back in return.

Tags: 2008, stories i've told
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