by Dorothy Thompson
"Coming from a rural area certainly has its advantages.
Spudflakes and Chicken-In-A-Can is not one of them."
So begins Dorothy Thompson's amusing story that will
bring back memories of the times we fed the cat liver
under the table.
I went to live with my grandmother in the summer of '64. My mother was tying up loose ends at our previous home in Burbank, California, and I was to live with my grandmother in Virginia until she was finished.
Moving to Virginia was like taking a snowman, putting him on the beach in Ft. Lauderdale, and watching him slowly melt. I was unfamiliar with the ways of the South and its dishes, no matter how hard I tried to like them.
My grandmother was poor and depended on the local food pantry to help make it through the cold, harsh winters. We climbed into her battered Chevy and headed for the food pantry to load up on what they determined was a month's worth of food. Cans of peas and carrots, a bag of flour, cornmeal, bags of rice puffs, and their most popular handouts, Spudflakes and Chicken-in-a-can.
The first time I tasted Spudflakes I thought I was going to have to run for the bathroom and empty my stomach of every morsel of that tasteless gook. It was the most horrible thing I had ever put in my mouth--until I tasted Chicken-in-a-can.
My grandmother knew I hated both of those, but proceeded anyway to cook them up for me. Before I could protest, she would slop the mess on my plate and mutter those unforgettable words, “You got to put some meat on yer bones, child.” I was helpless in my efforts to resist.
I tried every trick in the book to get out of eating those dishes, but she always managed to keep a careful eye on me. I moved the food around on my plate to look as if I had eaten some. I tried to excuse myself, but in those days we were instructed to eat everything on our plates. I was doomed to eat every mouthful.
I had to have another plan. I eyed my drinking glass. We always had water or Kool-ade, as these were the only drinks my grandmother could afford. On this one particular night, water was the offered drink of the house. I drank every last drop while my grandmother finished up her last bite and headed for the living room for her after-meal smoke and her National Enquirer.
I seized the moment. I threw every bit of that horrible Spudflakes and Chicken-in-a-can into my glass, walked casually into the kitchen, and emptied the despised mess into the trashcan.
Unexpectedly, my sister snitched on me, and I was made to spend the rest of the night in my bed with the lights off.
The next week, sure enough, there were Spudflakes and Chicken-in-a-can staring at me again. I hadn't come up with a sure-fire plan yet, but the gods must have been with me. My sister got sick and my grandmother had to take her to the bathroom. Probably the Spudflakes and Chicken-in-a-can.
I had to think fast. She was on to me with my empty water glass trick as she always checked the trash can after I ate. Ah-ha! I spied the flower arrangement in a pot on the table. Perfect!
I lifted the flowers and found the most wonderful hollow pot, just perfect to stuff in my Spudflakes and Chicken-in-a-can. In a flash, I scraped every morsel into the pot and put the flowers back on top. It worked! My grandmother was proud of me for eating everything on my plate, and I could go out to play.
Two weeks later I had forgotten about the flowerpot incident as children often do. We were sitting at the table and we noticed gnats flying around.
Oh no, my Spudflakes and Chicken-in-a-can! I had forgotten to empty the pot when my grandmother was not looking, and gnats were everywhere. Most of them were perched on the flowerpot. My grandmother mentioned something about this was the season for them and proceeded to finish her dinner while I tried to hide my guilt.
I never found out what happened to those Spudflakes and Chicken-in-a-can. Probably killed off the gnats--they stopped hovering after a while.
Dorothy Thompson is editor of The Writer's Life. She is also the author of No More Gooseberry Pie! Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dorothy Thompson is a freelance writer and e-book author from the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Her children's e-book, No More Gooseberry Pie!, is published by Writers-Exchange E-Publishing.
She was recently inducted into the Children's E-book Hall Of Fame. Her latest project is a collection of soulmate stories for her book, Romancing the Soul, which will be published next year.
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