By: Garland Davis
One of my earliest memories is breakfast and my mama bringing that dreaded bowl containing the blue-gray amorphous mass sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. It became one of the constant repetitious memories of my childhood. I didn’t know the word during the early years, but it eventually came to be known as “that fuckin’ oatmeal that mama gives us for breakfast.” Although, to be perfectly fair to her, she did from time to time give us thick lumpy flour gravy that one had to sop up with her hard tough biscuits. On Sundays, we got bacon or ham and scrambled eggs with the biscuits and gravy. I will admit that my mama was a great cook, except when it came to breakfast. The bacon was either limp and undercooked or so crisp that you, more often than not, ended up with bacon chips it was so crumbly.
My brother decided that he could improve the quality of breakfast by just not eating it. He forgot to take into account our daddy’s temper and the wide leather belt that held his holster. Daddy told him that if he didn’t eat he would get an ass whippin’. Being the oldest, I had already learned that it was not a good strategy to call daddy’s bluff. My brother got the ass whippin’ and ate his oatmeal!
Looking back on those times, I now realize that oatmeal and flour gravy and biscuits were cheap. Daddy was a chain gang guard for the county penal system (the state took over the county penal facilities in the early fifties) and didn’t make a lot of money. His salary went to pay rent, keep one or another old car running, buy clothes for three growing boys. Mama had four hens for eggs, which she saved up for Sunday breakfast. Once there were five hens, but the Rising girl’s (I might tell a story or two about them someday) dog killed one. My mama cleaned it for the dumpling pot.
I never minded the pinto beans and potatoes almost every day. Loved corn bread when mama baked it. Hated when daddy would catch a catfish. Always ended up with the choice of eat it or ass whippin’. Believe me, if you ever had one of my daddy’s ass whippin’s you would rather eat almost anything. I loved the summers, there was always stuff from the garden to eat. So, with more than one dish on the table, you could ignore one item without incurring daddy’s wrath.
That was pretty much the cuisine of my childhood. The biggest treats I can recall are annual weenie roasts by a farmer who lived up the road and Spam sandwiches. Thought I couldn’t get enough Spam. But then, I still hadn’t dined on the Navy’s version of the pink meat.
When I was fourteen daddy died. By then a little sister had been added to the mix. With three boys in school and a baby at home and Social Security Survivors Benefits as the only income, my mama had a hard time making ends meet. She did it by feeding us more fuckin’ oatmeal. The threat of ass whippin’ was removed, then the choice became eat the oatmeal or go hungry. The rest of the menu at home pretty much continued as before except happily, there was no more catfish. Ass whippin’s and catfish are the only things I didn’t miss about my daddy not being there.
The summer after daddy died, I got a job at a company the catered pit-cooked barbecue and homemade ice cream to restaurants and diners. My personal menu improved greatly. I decided then that I would never eat fish, chicken or that fuckin’ oatmeal ever again. I have extended and added to those three items over the years. People call me finicky, why hell, some of my shipmates call me pussy because I won’t eat raw fish. Calamari, for instance, I saw a movie where it took John Wayne and Ray Milland fifteen minutes to kill one of those mother fuckers. I ain’t eating it! Often times, my Japanese wife and I eat separate meals because of my food eccentricities.
I went into the Navy and became a baker and cook. I am a hell of a baker and a competent cook. I’ll cook it, but I don’t have to eat it. After a few years of the Navy version, I added Spam to my list of avoided foods. Another item added to the list of “Rather Starve Than Eat” is a Filipino delicacy known as “Balut”. Many of my shipmates claim to like Balut.
I will admit to eating a cockroach once. But there were extenuating circumstances. A group of us were in the Barrio enjoying the local libation. The girl had just brought a fresh round of San Miguel when a cockroach strolled onto the table. I remember someone saying, “You ain’t got a hair on you ass if you don’t eat that mother fucker.” My only excuse is you cannot let a challenge like that go unanswered. I just beat the others to him.
I pretty much went through a thirty-year Navy Career and a productive twenty years of civilian endeavors without changing my eating habits. While my wife is enjoying one of KFC’s Chicken Pot Pies, I can be quite happy with a peanut butter and banana sandwich washed down with a diet Dr. Pepper. I sometimes watch the cooking shows on the Food Network. I could do the things they do, but I am not really crazy about eating any of it.
I recently had my annual follow up appointment for my Parkinson’s disease. No real change. It is a progressive condition, but I am not progressing very rapidly. Except for one thing. Constipation is a complication of the disease. Parkinson’s is a muscular disorder. Peristalsis is a muscular movement of the digestive tract that moves food through the body. This movement slows markedly in Parkinson’s patients. The doctor prescribed some pills and recommended that I get more fiber in my diet. He recommended eating fuckin’ oatmeal!
I bit the bullet. I bought a box of rolled oats yesterday and cooked some this morning.
You know the shit ain’t that bad!
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A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.