Hi. My name is Betsy and I'm a picky eater.
When I was a little kid, plain Spaghetti-Os, parmesan cheese toast and peanut butter sandwiches made up the majority of my diet. My cousin Missy was the same way, and we had an unspoken bond that fostered the pickiness that our mothers - who were sisters - commiserated about. They shared get-the-picky-kid-to-eat ideas and recipes, and they were quite skilled. They’d make us special dishes – things that were just for us. Spaghetti without sauce; smooth peanut butter, not crunchy, on Pepperidge Farm bread; and enough parmesan cheese toast over the years to pave a road from here to Austin. My mother also made us her special version of Ranch dressing. It was very thin and absolutely perfect and we’d have it over our special Missy-and-Betsy salad of lettuce ONLY. In her words the dressing was: “Heavy on the B-milk, light on the mayo.” She still makes it for me when she comes to visit.
In second grade, my class did a unit on nutrition. Mrs. Simes made herself a permanent enemy the day she used my lunch tray as an example of what NOT to eat. It didn’t help her case that she was also the math teacher for our grade. She already had that strike against her. Anyhoo - Unless it was pizza day, I always had tomato soup, crackers, a salad with no dressing – just salt, a dinner roll and dessert. (As long as the dessert was not chess pie. I didn’t like chess pie back then.)
Mom always had a bee in her bonnet about my thin frame. It was the 1970s, and she had joined the granola gang. There was a health food store right across the street from our apartment where she stocked up on vile vitamins and carrot juice and other nastiness. I remember liking the carrot juice, but she was a very good saleswoman and I think she probably had me convinced that it was good stuff. And hey - I needed something to wash down the sesame sticks. I loved those things; she must have bribed me with them. Hmm.
In 1976, Mom and I went to girl scout camp. She was a counselor and I was a camper. She brought a shoebox full of vitamin bottles with us and the camp nurse handed them out after breakfast each morning. I'm not exaggerating when I say that it was a handful of pills. Glossy vitamin E capsules just begging to be popped. Big colored horse pills. Sweet little chalky Vitamin C chewables. They smelled terrible. There were so many of them that it was quite difficult to take all of them at one time, so the nurse would let me take a few, then carry the rest with me to swallow at morning canteen. There was a large old oak tree right outside the nurse's office that is probably quite healthy today. ;-)
Sometime in the mid-70s, when I was about 7 or so, I was tested for diabetes and hypo(hyper?)glycemia. I had to drink some syrupy orange crap every 60 minutes, wait in the jungly lobby of Dedman medical center (what a TERRIBLE name for a hospital!) and have blood drawn multilpe times. I remember feeling like a bad ass because I didn't cry about it. In fact, I watched as they sucked it out of me. I still watch every time I get blood drawn and think of that little bad ass girl. She's a part of me that I'm very proud of.
When I went to Camp Longhorn in 1977, I was persecuted, yes, persecuted for my refusal to eat cooked vegetables. The camp used a merit/demerit system and each kid had a big orange safety pin clipped to their clothes at all times. The pin held small metal disks (merits,) and counselors could demand a merit for bad behavior, or add a merit to the jangling collection for good behavior. My pin was frequently sparse because of my food issues.
One day, they served cooked peas for lunch. Whenever I saw bowls come out of the kitchen with peas or green beans - which seemed to be camp favorites, I would cringe and plot my stealthy circumnavigation of the pre-dessert plate check. I’d either scoop the slimy little things into my napkin and ball it up, spread them out on the plate so it looked like some of them had been eaten, or hollow out a roll and stuff them inside. The end of the main course was always a tense moment, waiting to see if my handiwork would pass the counselor’s muster. It was a crapshoot – sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn’t, and it probably depended more on the counselor’s mood that day than my skill.
One day, a day when the counselor must have been in a really crappy mood, I got called out and told that I had to eat three bites of my peas if I wanted to leave the table and join my cabinmates for rest hour. There was no way in hell that I was going to eat peas and I stood my ground, silently sitting at the empty table in the empty chow hall, waiting to see what would happen next. I don’t know how long the standoff lasted – it felt like at least an hour, but was probably more like 15 minutes or so. The memory is fuzzy, but there may have been involvement from the big cheese too, chastising me and trying to get me to comply. Nuh uh. Wasn’t going to happen. Finally, they took a couple of merits from me and set me free.
I was a good kid. I really was. Quiet and compliant and sweet. The only reason my big safety pin was empty was due to my shyness (which didn’t attract random merits from jovial counselors) and my pickiness, which caused the loss of lots of merits. When we went to the camp store to spend our merits on things like felt pennants and tee shirts and Texas-sized flies and fly swatters, I had to settle for stuff from the crappy section, like those little slider puzzles that come in Cracker Jack boxes, or a rubber keychain.
The next year I switched from Camp Longhorn to Kickapoo Kamp, largely because Julie Gold, who was a classmate at Hockaday and was in my cabin at Longhorn, said she was going to do so. Why this caused me to get all gung ho about Kickapoo, I don’t know. I didn’t even like Julie Gold. She was a mouthbreather who knocked people down to be first in line in P.E. and threw tantrums in her obnoxiously appointed playroom at home. I guess her mom and my mom were friends – I can’t think of any other reason that I’d be at her house to witness those tantrums. Except maybe that we were in the same tap and ballet class at Mister Andy’s and Miss Charlene’s School of Dance on weekday afternoons after school.
Anyhoo – the pea incident repeated itself at Kickapoo in 1978. Another standoff. Except this time, there were no merits to be robbed from my person. HA! I was left in the old Lodge to wait it out at the ancient pine table that was probably the scene of other pea standoffs over the years. And wait it out, I did. Never during my six years at Kickapoo did peas ever cross my lips. Nor green beans, nor oatmeal. No way, no how.
When Michele started Kamp in 1999, I put a note in bold ink on the “special directions” section of her application, “Please do not require Michele to eat anything that she does not want to eat.” 21 years later, I was the one in the power seat. And it felt DAMN GOOD.
These days, I remain a bit finicky, but I’ll usually try most things once, as long as they aren’t meat products (homey don’t eat no funky meat,) aren’t lumpy, and don’t smell bad.
I still won’t eat peas. ;-)