Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sweet Tooth

"You really have a sweet tooth, don't you?" my husband said. When he posed the question, I was on tiptoes stretching upwards to reach an 8 oz. container of Trader Joe's English Toffee. I hesitated before responding; my hand suspended midair. Then, I grabbed the plastic box and tossed it into our shopping car. "Yes," I said, marching down the aisle, a smirk enhancing my face.

My husband's statement was not unfamiliar. I had heard similar comments about my sweet tooth from my mother and my first husband. In the earlier instances, I remained silent, caught their intent and sheepishly returned to the shelf or fridge the goody I was about to digest.

My mother, long deceased, was thin and pretty. She worried if I mimicked my father's appetite, I would grow fat and unwell. And, she had my father's fate nailed, for he died at age 47, overweight, diabetic, and a three-pack-a-day Camel smoker. Sadly, I doubt it was an untimely death Mother feared for her only daughter. Instead, I believe it was the prospect of me being unattractive, and ring-less while my college girlfriends flashed theirs.

I wasn't surprised when Mother urged me to see the Diet Doctor. At the time, I was probably 5 pounds over my ideal weight. But certainly, with my publicized love of sweets, those 5 could easily double, triple. Couldn't they? I’d visit the doctor weekly, twitch in a waiting room stuffed with patients, step on the scale while nervously eyeing the balance beam, and then accept 3 bottles of colored pills to be taken at various times of the day.

And they worked! The pounds came off. I also became super fast at anything I attempted. Clean the house? Done in an hour. Homework? Zoomed through it. Sleep? Sorry, no. So, that medical miracle was abandoned. Instead, Mother used her Singer to open up my skirt waistbands and add a bit of matching fabric. (Swiped from the hem no doubt, as my young self never made it to 5’.)

When I married in 1960, my slim husband took over the parenting role. The line I most remember from our 30-year hitch was, "Mother loves her cake." He was referring to me (with two children, I was "Mother" and he "Father."). That statement about cake doesn't sound particularly threatening now, but at the time, I translated it to: "You have an uncontrollable appetite. You will get fat. I will leave you." So, I would interrupt my bite, replace the cake, and slink from the kitchen.

When Weight Watchers came to Chicago, I was first in line. Its rules appealed to a list-maker like me. All I had to do was follow instructions and the extra pounds (about 10 by now) would disappear. Eventually they did, but along with them went any affection for fish. (In the early days, Watchers had to eat 5 fish meals per week.)

Besides Weight Watchers, I accumulated every diet book published. Their promises lined my bookshelves until later in my life when the sight of them and the memory of the pathetic woman I once was, made me toss the lot into the garbage.

In my second marriage, the urge to be thinner (my husband is a 3-times-a-week YMCA-er without an ounce of fat on his Gentile body) returned. I found a website, CalorieKing, and by weighing, measuring, and recording everything I put in my mouth, managed to lose another 10 pounds.

From below the neck, attired in Size 2 black Banana Republic blouse and slacks, I looked a fashion model. But up above, a grey-haired crone creaked into view. I never thought I'd ever utter these words, but: I was too skinny. I looked older, sicker, on my way out. So I abandoned my strict documenting, relaxed the portions, and added back 5 pounds.

Now, if I want apple strudel (that's what Mother snatched from my fingers), cake, or English Toffee, I just go ahead and chomp. And if anyone -- spouse, relative, or onlooker -- has anything to say about my choice, I just smile and continue my sweet. Care for a bite?


Anonymous said...


More excellent writing...thanks for sharing!!



Anonymous said...

Hi Elaine: Thanks for sending me these portions of your novel. I'm thoroughly enjoying them. Mothers, fathers, husbands, all the interaction. You look fabulous! Oy, that chocolate cake looks inviting. MARLENE

Anonymous said...

sweet story, except I don't agree with the gray haired crone, and by the way, I liked you more voluptuous. Mort

Danny Miller said...

Love this, and it makes me want to bake you a cake (Do you like coconut cake? I make a killer one, and the next time you're in L.A., I want to hand deliver one to your door!).

I am WAY more than 5 lbs. over my ideal weight but I also believe in partaking of the occasional treat. Why not? Of course you are one of the most fit people I know and a role model to all--so keep enjoying that toffee and strudel whenever you like! Not to get too somber, but my mom always moaned about her weight (even though she looked great) and when she was dying of cancer and so very thin she often remarked about how much she wished she had that meat on her bones and how much time she wasted in her life worrying about a few extra pounds.

Let them eat cake!


Anonymous said...

thanks, Elaine, for sharing. Loved the essay about your discovery of jazz--mine was similar, about 10 years later. And Carmen McRae--how I loved her! Did you see her shows at Ratso's in the late 70's?
Linda B
Women & Children First

Anonymous said...

I prefer the articles about women with a little extra body fat being healthy and protected from falls! The other articles are quickly tossed into the recycling bin. As I age and the pounds seem to have levelled off when I exercise regularly, I get the attitude "Hey, this is me! Deal with it!" (Elaine, I have seen you - you are beautiful, so don't worry about it)

Anonymous said...

On your next shoping trip to Trader Joe's, you need to take with you what was once a standard item at SHAPIRO'S FINER FOODS...

"A Stick with a Claw at the end"..the piece of equipment that your parents used to grab the canned goods and small boxes from the upper grocery store shelves. Do you remember that "handy-dandy" item?

By this time next year, you will "be shorter" and no longer able to stand on your "tippy toes" to reach for your favorite sweet treats at Joe's, and the following year..."you will even be shorter." Tell me about it Bubbie, it's happened to me.

Advice for the home: Keep your favorite treats on the lower shelves in the kitchen and pantry, if you have one.

In our home we have a 3-piece cookie jar set in the corner of one of our kitchen counters. Two LARGE glass cookie jars on a rack.
One jar is currently filled with OREO COOKIES..the other one has a mix of OATMEAL and CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES.