So I am inaugurating a new tradition here at Six More Weeks: Weird Confessions Wednesday. Every week on Wednesday (except when I forget, am incapacitated by an acupuncture hangover, or am too busy reading Diana Gabaldon novels) I will tell a story about something quirky that I do or have done. I will not be divulging anything especially dark and deep – nothing that would prompt Rick Santorum to add me to his novena list – but will in fact be deliberately keeping things rather trivial. If anyone likes this idea and would like to join me, either by adding your own Weird Confession in the comments section or by writing one on your own blog and then linking to mine, please feel free.
Early in her novel Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison characterizes the protagonist’s aunt Pilate – a self-exiled misfit and semi-magical wise woman – as follows: “She and her daughters ate like children. Whatever they had a taste for. No meal was ever planned or balanced or served. Nor was there any gathering at the table. Pilate might bake hot bread and each one of them would eat it with butter whenever she felt like it. Or there might be grapes, left over from the winemaking, or peaches for days on end. If one of them bought a gallon of milk, they drank it until it was gone. If another got a half bushel of tomatoes or a dozen ears of corn, they ate them until they were gone too.” Every time I read this passage – and I’ve read it more than a dozen times, first as a student, then as a general reader, then as a teacher – I always stop and feel a little guilty. Wait, I say. Is this bad? Are people not supposed to eat like this? Because I do, often. Pretty close to all the time, actually, when I’m at home.
Recently I’ve resurrected a childhood obsession with raw carrots. When I was a kid, from the age of three or four until I was old enough to not often be home in the evenings, my mom made me a plate of raw vegetables to eat in front of the TV in the hour before dinner (in the hour that my parents are old enough to refer to as “cocktail time”). This plate often included raw string beans and bell pepper strips, cucumber and tomato wedges, radishes and mushrooms – but the centerpiece was always five or six raw carrots. I couldn’t get enough of the things. I ate them from the outside in, peeling away and eating the slightly bitter outer layer first before marveling at and then eating the sweeter, veiny, rootlike center. If in this process I accidentally mauled the center with my teeth, it kind of ruined my day.
For as long as I can remember in my adult life, I’ve been buying baby carrots, which I ate either plain or with hummus. And I like them just fine. But recently, in an attempt to patronize a small local vegetable market instead of the supermarket whenever possible, I’ve started buying real carrots again – the long skinny gnarled kind. The first night I peeled and ate three. The next night it was four. Peelings piled up in the sink, and occasionally I found a peeling affixed to the wall somewhere around the sink on nights when my carrot preparation process took on a frenzied exuberance. Now I’m up to six, every afternoon at four o’clock. I eat them in front of CNN.
But there’s more to this story. All throughout my childhood, the raw carrots that I consumed with such gusto gave me the hiccups. Not every single night, but often. Two or three bites into the first carrot, I would feel a certain desperate pressure in my upper abdomen, and a moment I would gulp out my first hiccup. It hurt, but I didn’t especially care. The last thing I was going to do was to give up my nightly carrots.
I told my mom that carrots gave me the hiccups, and after the period of requisite is that so, dears that were her standard response to anything I said, she began to get worried. She doubted that the carrots were really causing the hiccups, but she watched me for several nights and finally concluded that I was right. She developed the theory that I had some kind of strange allergy to carrots that resulted in the hiccups, and at some point she took me to the doctor to get his opinion. I was too young to be aware of whatever dubious look the pediatrician must have given her (which is too bad; as an adult I am a connoisseur of dubious looks from doctors, and I’m sure this one would have been a great addition to my collection), but we went home assured that I was not allergic to carrots and that if I wanted to eat them and didn’t mind the hiccups, I could still eat them.
My parents watched me closely and sought the advice of friends. As I got older, I also examined my own carrot consumption and began to ask what I did differently on the nights I did not get the hiccups. Finally, we concluded that I got the hiccups on nights when I dug in to my carrots SO enthusiastically that I forgot to breathe. If I was feeling more subdued and/or was deeply captivated by an episode of Happy Days or Three’s Company, I ate my carrots more slowly and did not suffer any gastric consequences. Eventually, I figured out that if I gave myself a little pep talk before I ate carrots (Remember to breathe. In through the nose. Out through the mouth. That’s it. Nice and slow. Keep it up.) I could stave off the hiccups most of the time.
Which brings me to my Weird Confession. Everything that I have described above still happens. I am 36 years old. I have two college degrees and a rewarding career. And when I eat carrots I get so fucking excited that I forget to breathe. And you know what? I’m okay with that.