In response to The New York Times article “650 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing.”
544. “What are the Most Memorable Meals You’ve Ever Had?”
Off the top of my head, and from bottom of my gut, two meals: 1, the saddest dinner of my life; and 2, the first time I ate oysters.
Growing up my family always sat down together for dinner. Taco Tuesdays, milanesa Wednesdays, pickled veggies with cheese and ham on Sundays, and clams sometime in between. Conversation was important in the family, as was bickering between siblings, and kicking one another under the table. One person set the table, another picked up the plates. My father usually cooked, my mother organized dessert and made sure we had all finished our homework before eating. It was so common to eat together, we all had our own seats, and had been trained to eat in a formal setting at a very early age. Galas, weddings, or polite dinners at acquaintances’ houses were never embarrassing affairs. Our manners came from the folks, our father teaching us the importance of gathering around a home-cooked meal and delivering witty commentary; and of course our mother, who had lived out of embassies as a kid, joked that back in her day, to train her to eat properly, the consulate would place a napkin under each of her and her siblings arm pits; if any of them dropped a napkin, then no child would get dessert. Ah, but we were never put under any napkin scheme. We always had dessert. And if we weren’t tired, we would play a round or two of ‘Generala,’ a sort of Argentine Yahtzee. Tachame la double, someone invariable calls…anyway…
Needless to say (but I’ll say it still?), I had taken these TV-less, phone-less, music-less evenings set before loved ones for granted.
My most memorable, albeit saddest meal of my life, was my very first dinner in college.
I hadn’t met my roommates yet, really. They were playing Halo on their TVs, in their rooms, door closed. My friends from high school, that would attend my university, hadn’t gotten into town yet. And my parents and siblings had left hours before, after we had all eaten crab for lunch somewhere along the River Walk in San Antonio.
I was alone. And I didn’t want to cook anything. So I heated up a small Chef Boyardee ravioli. Put a spoon to it. And let the greasy coat of marinara rest between the gums of my lower and upper teeth for a long time before taking another bite. I called my dad before even getting up “to clear the table.” And told him I missed home.
The other most memorable meal was shared with my father and brother in Gujan-Mestras, home of the world’s first man-made oyster farm, I believe, sponsored by Napoleon the third some time ago. But yes, the three of us walked along a pier. The air was cool, though it was July. The smell of sea foam floated about. When we sat down, I remember first the color of the pink, vinegary mignonette set atop a platter of crushed ice and oysters so fresh because the owner of the spot had snagged them up from what was essentially his back yard. Papa showed my brother and I how to pick up and get at the shell fish. He slurped it with such delight and with a facial expression glowed from the satisfaction of those first oysters he was sharing with his eldest sons. I grabbed one of the shells myself. And put it to my nose. Muted grey salt. My brother asked if its true that eating oysters is dangerous. My dad nodded. I asked how it tastes. But my dad told me there’s only one way to find out. Pick, and pop.
Like really, really tasty snot.
I’ll never forget.