Last year, I uncovered my diary from 1972 in a box in my attic. This was the only diary from my childhood that I kept. It was like finding a lost treasure. The chance to read an entire year of what I did every day; the clothes I bought; the boys I liked; who was my best friend each week; the teachers I loved (and hated) from age 11 to age 12 was an insightful and entertaining walk back into my past.
I pulled my diary out again this week for some help in confirming the existence of my first love. Fifth and sixth grade had to reveal the state of my pre-pubescent love-starved mind. But, the truth about my first love surprised me. Sure, there are a few pages of entries like “I think that I’m in love with Les Rechan and Andy Sugg. I like Jim L. and Les R.” Then, on my first day at Mill Middle I wrote, “I love the crowded hallways and my moustached math teacher.” Mr. Bell was pretty cute, and I remember having a big crush on him, but I realized by the time I finished reading my diary that it wasn’t Les, Andy, John, or even Mr. Bell that I craved.
It was food. The boys in sixth grade didn’t get anywhere near the ink I used to describe the love and commitment I had for food- my first and continuous true love. Page after page, my words describe the “yummy French toast” I had for breakfast at Karen K’s slumber party, a fudge ripple ice cream cone with rainbow jimmies at Friendly’s, and the delicious bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken with biscuits that Dad brought home for a special dinner treat. I describe with devotion the chocolate frosted donuts we picked up after church, the Italian foot-long subs on New Year’s Eve, and the “big boughten birthday cake” my mom got for my sister that year. The highlight of certain days was going to McDonald’s, Burger King or Howard Johnson’s fish fry on Friday night. Each synopsis of a day in the life of Linda either ended or began with what I had to eat:
March 3, 1972: Dear Diary, tonight I had a surprise slumber party. I got a lot of neato presents. My friends came and a girl even threw up. We had pizza too.
After reading through a year filled with delectable descriptions of cupcakes, pancakes, hot cocoa, fudgecicles, Fritos, cherry pop, and my then favorite dinner of spaghetti, salad, and French bread, I was hungry. It’s no wonder that I have such an infatuation with food. I’ve always equated it with love. My childhood memories are food memories. Every Sunday was dinner at Grandma’s with roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, and lumpy mashed potatoes. Whether it was a christening, communion, birthday party, or graduation, food was the centerpiece of every family gathering. Our backyard barbeque on Memorial Day usually ended up in the garage because May was cold and rainy in my hometown of Buffalo. We devoured burgers, potato salad, and baked beans right next to the garbage cans and snow shovels. Snow, rain, sleet or claustrophobia didn’t dampen our appetites.
Food was also a reward for good behavior-the well-earned donuts for sitting through boring mass each Sunday. My family talked about what we were having for dinner at lunchtime. We loved when my mother changed things up and made breakfast for dinner. Waffles, scrambled eggs, and bacon were a nice break from pork chops and applesauce. If Mom tried to pass off green Jell-O with congealed mandarin orange slices as dessert, she started a riot with her four children. She could extinguish the flames with ice cream and cookies.
My romance with food has played out in my adult life in many different ways. First, I married a man who loves to eat too–our favorite date night has always been dining out.
We were foodies before the word became chic. I have four daughters who know that food and love go hand in hand. When they were little, and scraped their knees, I immediately gave them a lollipop from the stash in my purse. Crying or whining could certainly be stopped with a treat and a hug. Now that they’re teenagers, a bad day can always be made better with homemade chocolate chip cookies.
I refuse to be friends with anyone who doesn’t enjoy food, which is difficult in my town, where most women weigh their lettuce leaves before they indulge, and then head off to the gym. My best friends who like to eat still ask, “Do you want to split a dessert?” “No,” I answer, “I don’t want to share a dessert–I want my own!”
The cherry on the cake of my affair with food was that I owned a restaurant for thirteen years, so I was around great food all day. It was a natural career choice for me, and I excelled at marketing a $7.00 slice of carrot cake to a customer who didn’t have “an ounce of room for dessert.” If anyone ordered a brownie, my line was always, “Do you want a scoop of vanilla with that?” I knew how to cajole them into eating more. I was insulted, in fact, when customers wouldn’t heed my suggestions.
I sold my restaurant to stay home with my girls, and now am proud of my culinary talents with brown bag lunches: specialties like turkey, hummus, and avocado on ciabatta rolls, or ham and melted Brie on a croissant with Dijon mustard. My daughters’ friends are jealous when they unwrap their bologna on white bread or have to buy the cafeteria’s mystery meat hamburgers.
I admit that I obsess over food, but am working on having a healthier relationship with my true love. The relationship became unhealthy just this past year when my new scale flashed numbers that were difficult to swallow. I had to stop accepting my ten extra pounds as the new normal. Drastic times called for drastic measures, so I went on-line and ordered my first shipment of diet food. When the huge box arrived by UPS, I realized that none of my 28 days worth of breakfast, lunch or dinner had to be refrigerated. Really? I thought that you could only get away with 28 days of non-perishable food on the Space Station! To be honest, my diet wasn’t all that bad (except for the chicken salad that looked, and tasted like cat food). I did, in fact, lose eight pounds the first month. It’s been difficult to break up with Dunkin’ Donuts, but whenever I drive by my favorite locations, I notice that I’m getting stronger everyday. All good relationships require sacrifice.
My husband called from work yesterday and asked, “How’s your day coming along?” I cheerily told him “I’m writing a story about my first love,” and his immediate reply was, “Chocolate?”
I’m so glad that he’s never been the jealous type.
Linda D’Arcy lives in Mt. Vernon, N.Y. with her husband and four daughters. Her essay about her adopted daughter, “Waiting for Emily,” was recently published in the literary anthology, “Shifting Balance Sheets,” by Wising Up Press.