December 7, 2014 by Paula Reed Nancarrow
I am sitting on a red plastic chair at the gray laminate table in our kitchen.
My parents bracket the table like parentheses: my brother sits to my right, being a pest. Across from me, where my mother can reach her, my sister sits in her high chair, humming as she eats. Mmm…mmm…mmm….
On the table in front of me is Mt. Everest on a plate: a heap of cold mashed potatoes.
My chicken leg is a greasy bone. The canned peaches are gone. I have even eaten all of the green beans in cream of mushroom soup, though I have tucked the mushroom bits beneath Mt. Everest. Now they sit there, those potatoes…white, lumpy, cold.
And I must eat them because they are there.
I don’t like mashed potatoes.
“Everyone likes mashed potatoes,”says my father. “What’s not to like? They don’t even taste like anything! They’re just something to put butter and salt on.”
But they do taste like something. They taste like kindergarten paste.
“Scott’s eaten his,” says my mother. “He’s in the Clean Plate Club. He likes mashed potatoes.”
Scott’s eaten his. He’s in the Clean Plate Club. He likes mashed potatoes.
“What was that? No sass, now.”
My sister Stacey has eaten about half of hers, and is wearing the rest.
Baby fuzz sticks up like patches of crabgrass on her head where her fists have left potato deposits. My mother sighs, pulls Stacey up from the high chair, and sits her on the edge of the kitchen sink. She starts The Wipe Down.
When I clean my plate, I can leave the table. Those are the rules.
My father is an elementary school principal, and principals like rules. They do not care whether you like rules. Or whether you like mashed potatoes.
Which I don’t.
When Stacey is finally clean, my mom takes her into the living room where my dad and brother are watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.
From the open kitchen door I can see the cheetah chasing down a young antelope. I know the pounce is coming, but I still jump.
My mother closes the door.
“You can watch TV when you’re done,” she says.“The Flintstones are on in ten minutes.”
The Flintstones are my favorite show. My mom knows this.
I take a bite of that mountain of kindergarten paste. My throat refuses to open, and I gag, loudly. I hear my mother heading for the door. “Sit down, Dorisanne,” my father says. “She’s fine.”
I could die in here, I really could.
The Flintstones are a Modern Stone Age Family.
They have pterodactyls that play records and a warthog garbage disposal. They have a dinosaur for a pet. We don’t even have a dog to feed my potatoes to. Or a garbage disposal.
I stand on my chair, leaning over the sink so I can see the drain where my mother rinsed the mashed potatoes out of my sister’s hair. There’s no clog.
Here is my ticket to the Clean Plate Club.
I must move quickly like the cheetah, silently tipping the plate over the sink, waving it back and forth. The mashed potato mountain defies gravity. I have to part it from the plate with my fingers. I turn the water on, and Mt. Everest – and the mushroom bits – melt away.
I don’t like mashed potatoes.
I push open the kitchen door. “Clean plate!”
My mother raises one eyebrow, but says nothing.
“Did you finish all your mashed potatoes?” asks my father.
“They’re gone,” I say. I hold up the plate. I was an early Jesuit.
“Did you eat all your potatoes, Paula?”
Eventually, those potatoes are going to leave the sink trap. Where are they going to they end up? In the bathtub? In the toilet? Can they do that?
“Tell the truth, now.”
My voice sounds small and far away.
“I don’t like mashed potatoes.”
It is the truth. But it does not set me free.
A longer version of this story was published in 2008 on my first blog, Ordinary Time Which do you like better? And how do you feel about the Clean Plate Club?