After my mother died, there it would be in my lunch box: Wonder bread enveloping two slices of flabby, sodium-laden meat. Second, only to the chemicals, the processed-beyond-belief combination of pork, spices, and beef was infused with green olives and pimentos. Yes, it was olive loaf again. Olive loaf is a strange concept to most people who’ve never tried it. My brothers packed my lunch for school daily because I had no mother. I had very little interest in food of any kind, but those sandwiches made me despair.

I have never liked processed meat, and that flavor of tortured meat and spices laden with green olives and pimentos made no sense to me. The meat had a pungent, hot dog-like flavor (As this thing is basically bologna, that makes sense.), but much stronger. This was not food for a child. I would start to gag when I would open the lunchbox and smell the bologna on steroids. I would quickly scan the lunchbox for something edible and then I would close it quickly before I had to smell it anymore.

And yet, they would pack it in my lunch every single day. Did nobody ever see the untouched sandwiches in the box, or did I quickly throw all that out so that nobody would know that I rejected the efforts of my brothers? I couldn’t get up the nerve to complain about the disgusting stuff, so they continued to pack them. 

Any time I get near processed meat, it tastes like sorrow and neglect. 

Speaking of strange meats, people used to serve beef liver at least once a week. In the 50s and 60s, liver was considered a health food, with its high iron content, whereas it is actually an unhealthy choice because the livers of those animals had to filter all the poisons in the animal’s environment. 

Cartoon by Scott Mendenhall

Beef liver was cheap. And so there it was at Celeste’s table every week. Celeste cooked liver like she cooked everything else—by tormenting it.

Look, there’s nothing good I can say about liver. But it can be nearly edible if it is handled correctly. Cooked liver can taste bitter. When overcooked, liver can get rubbery and tough. Everything Celeste touched was overcooked.

There was Celeste, frilly apron covering her tweed suit, cooking liver until the meat capitulated and admitted its wrongdoing. She served the creation on her fancy Spode china and put it down in front of me. I attempted to cut the meat and a chunk of it flew off from the main dry chunk, soared through the air, and landed pathetically on Celeste’s white dining room carpet. 

In a real home, a dog would be there to snarf up the piece of liver.

“Eat that liver.  I cooked it and you will eat it. You will not leave the table until you have eaten the entire piece of liver.”

I just couldn’t. It was dry as a pile of wood chips and stuck in my throat making me gag. And the smell! 

So I started taking the part-chewed pieces of meat and putting them into a paper napkin. At the end of the meal, I rolled the napkin up and forced it into slats under the table. 

She’ll never find that.

But she did. A week later, she discovered the napkin full of partially chewed liver pieces and she made me sit at the table until I had eaten every single piece. 

I should have puked it all out.

But then, I would have to clean it up.


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