Under the Sun
Bit of talk, thought of sharing whet an appetite for real food
WITH both her hands, Violet shaded her eyes from the midday sun.
"What they doing over there?" she asked, pointing chin and pooched lips toward a tent set up in the parking lot of a supermarket.
Giving out samples, I said, as I loaded groceries in my car.
Mostly drinks and crackers, I answered.
"You try? Taste good?"
I told her I tried the "lemon" drink, but not wanting to foist on her the judgment of a fresh-squeezed-lemonade devotee, I spared her my negative evaluation.
I need not have bothered. Violet had already decided the samples weren't going to be worth the 20-yard trek across the hot asphalt.
"Ah-ah-ah," she said, the sounds seeming to convey both a rejection of free food and the exertion of lowering an elderly frame into the driver's seat of her 1990s-era car.
The four-door Corona fit her. Neat inside, grit-free outside, its slightly faded burgundy matched the purples and lavenders of her paisley-print dress. Aptly named, that Violet.
She'd driven to the market to drop off newspapers in the recycling bin, a chore she tends to every other week after church. She usually picks up provisions at the same time, but not today, she said. She still had food in the house.
SHE DOESN'T have much of an appetite, she explained, mostly because "now days, food not real."
When she was younger, she said, she shopped at small neighborhood grocery stores that stocked everything she needed to make a meal for her family. Today's supermarkets, though expansive, are full of foods, most of which she considers "not real."
Look at cereal, she said, and the list of ingredients spreads down the side of the package in tiny type she can't read even with her "strong" glasses. And if she could decipher the letters, she wouldn't know riboflavin from hydrogenated wheat gluten anyway.
Grocery shopping, she remarked, has become a major undertaking.
"So many counters, you know, the shelves all full, full, full" with boxes, jars and cans of foods she's never bought and never will.
SHE REMEMBERS that when she was growing up there were maybe three types of crackers, the "kind with salt, and sweet kind, and the plain one." Now there is a whole aisle devoted to crackers and cookies, some shaped like dolphins or colored like goldfish, and "for what?"
I thought the question was rhetorical, but she stared up at me, waiting. I stammered out that maybe people like variety or maybe cracker and cookie companies create different kinds to get people to buy more of them.
No, she said, it's because people are too much in a rush and want fast food and fast foods, by their nature, eliminate real food tastes.
At family gatherings, potluck contributions often come from KFC or Zippy's, she said. Making a dish takes time, she acknowledged, but "you cooking for your family, no? Your family worth cooking, no?"
She told me that one birthday an aunt gave her an apple, apparently a rare treat for a local kid. Perhaps memory had sweetened it, but Violet enthusiastically recalls how that crisp, tangy fruit filled her stomach and spirit.
TO THIS DAY, apples, a plain soda cracker softening in a bowl of hot milk, tangerines from a neighbor's trees, eggs gathered from backyard chickens, a cut of sugar cane to chew until teeth hurt -- the foods of childhood -- remain the real delicacies of Violet's life.
What foods, she wondered, would today's children remember when they are grown-up? Concoctions of gelatin and fake flavors molded into small bears, chicken parts re-formed into fried clumps, microwaved mystery meat wrapped in gooey crusts?
The thought made her sad, she said.
I said all the talk of food had made me hungry. She sat for a beat, then said, "Me, too."
"I make chicken tonight. Chinese style. I call my daughter, tell her come eat."
The walk across the parking lot didn't seem too far any more.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org