By Vivian Lawry
One night when my older sister was in first grade she said, “Our family isn’t like other families,” and when Mom asked what she meant, she said, “You’re hard and Daddy’s soft”—which was true, but if you ask me, what made our family different was dinners, which we all ate together about six-thirty or so, rather than us kids eating earlier and the grownups later like our friends, so we didn’t get to play much after school, what with us playing while they were eating and it was often nearly dark by the time we got out after dinner, because we all talked about what happened that day, plus we had all these rules about not getting seconds till everyone had finished firsts, and then we had to take our dishes out and put them in the dishwasher, and starting at age twelve we each had to cook dinner one night a week—starch, veg, and protein—and clean up the kitchen after, and the clean-up part was because my older sister made such a mess no one else should have to deal with it, but at least Mom didn’t make us eat everything on our plates because we weren’t in danger of starving to death and she didn’t want the aggravation of arguing about it, but if we didn’t clean our plates, no dessert and no snacks before the next meal, and we did have to at least taste anything new—which we had to do often because Mom and Dad liked to try new stuff, and that’s how we came to have kasha that time, because they saw a box of it on the grocery store shelf and cooked it according to the package directions, and even cooking it smelled awful but Mom told us hundreds of thousands of people ate kasha, so just try it and we all did and we all hated it, so we didn’t have it again, but when I was in fourth grade and my class was learning about nutrition, the teacher asked what food we hated most and I said kasha—and nobody even knew what it was—so at dinner I said, “Mom, you told me lots of people eat kasha,” and she just smiled and said, “They do. They just don’t happen to live in Garrettsville, New York,” and then we didn’t talk about kasha anymore, even though we had other weird stuff all the time, like eggplant sautéed in a lot of olive oil that my older sister said looked like snot and boogers—besides feeling like slime—so it was no wonder our friends wouldn’t eat with us without first asking what we were having, especially after my little sister’s second grade class made cookbooks of their favorite recipes for their moms for Christmas—red construction paper covers that they decorated and laced together with yarn, which should have been made for moms and dads, because Mom and Dad always cooked dinner together—but anyway, the twenty-six kids in the class each contributed one recipe, so it ended up being twenty-four recipes for cake, candy, brownies, and pie, one for barbecue, and my sister’s for herb-buttered lamb kidneys broiled with bacon, and word got around about that as fast as you might expect it would, and then when she got into fourth grade and said they were studying nutrition, I said, “If they ask you what food you hate most, don’t say kasha or everybody will think you’re weird”—as if they didn’t already—but what put the icing on the cake was when my big sister asked what we were having for dinner (she always asked at breakfast what we were having for dinner) and Mom said, “rabbit stew” and sis said, “You mean we’re gonna eat the bunny?” because it was Easter, and in spite of our Easter baskets, Mom and Dad didn’t make the connection, and Mom said, “You’ll like it. It tastes a lot like chicken,” so we had it anyway, our first taste of rabbit ever, and it was pretty awful—maybe because it started off frozen, but even so, we never had it again, though we continued to get strange meals, like the time we had roasted goose for Christmas instead of turkey and Mom said, “You should like it. It tastes a lot like chicken,” and I said, “Oh, no! I bet it tastes just like rabbit!” so I was surprised when we actually liked it but, anyway, that’s how we grew up tasting anything once, and years later we’ve passed it on, so when my nephew in third grade had to write an ode—yes, an ode in third grade—he wrote “An Ode to Sushi” and he always requests it for his birthday dinners because it’s his favorite—and although everyone has different favorites now, to this day we sisters still agree that the worst dinner in the world would be kasha, eggplant, and rabbit.