I have one regret that stands out in my mind most vividly. I am at MacDonalds®, a place my family rarely went, and my friend's parents are buying dinner for them, their two kids and their two friends. The three other kids know exactly what they want-a Happy Meal; complete with drink, fries and toy. My vegetarian diet prohibits this choice, as I am hungry and know that I cannot even try to eat the bread that the hamburger has laid against. I don't really want that MacDonalds® salad either with the too cold, pale yellow, hard boiled egg, iceberg lettuce and that tomato that bears no resemblance to what comes out of our garden. That Happy Meal cost $2, that salad, $2.50, no drink and worse no fries. Her parents ask about the salad, and I say with utter disappointment, “Is that all?”
Looking back, I can forgive that little girl her impetuous answer. As the fourth born child to a family of vegetarian, sugar-free, guru following hippies, the choices were just too overwhelming. I wanted the fat of those fries and I wanted to suck down a whole small pop all to myself and I even wanted that small plastic toy from the latest movie in the theaters, and I really wanted my food choice to be that easy.
My family never really fit in, especially in the food category. When we left our community run alternative education school, my parents and my grandfather's money, sent us to a private school in Topeka where the BMW and Mercedes set went to school. These kids wore designer clothes in first grade, while my grandmother sewed a pile of dresses, skirts, blazers and blouses to conform to the dress code of the school. Here we were, a group of kids who never even wore shoes, or clothes in the summer, pressed into long skirts and dresses, just to go to school. It was a bit of culture shock to say the least. We also smelled bad. We, of course, didn't know we smelled bad. We had always lived on an organic goat farm, so we didn't know that the smell of the barn and the milk-house snuck into our clothing at 5:30 in the morning, while all our classmates were still sleeping in their own beds, in their very own rooms, wearing night clothes that, more than likely, were bought brand new and were not handed down from three older siblings. We only had one pair of shoes each and those that walked through the manure laden barn and milk shed, were the same ones that walked the halls of the Shawnee Country Day School.
The biggest shock came at lunch, and to this day I feel sorry for my sister, the oldest of our brood, responsible for divvying out the lunch for the rest of us. She was in 7th grade, utterly conscious of the material differences in our and our classmates lives, while being in first grade, I hardly cared what I wore, except I hated dresses and skirts which invariably made running fast impossible. At lunch, when the rest of the kids sat with their friends and their classmates, my family; myself, two sisters and a brother, all sat at one table together in the cafeteria. Like some kind of rerun of the Waltons, my sister would unpack the standard grocery size brown paper sack, reused so often it felt like cloth, of all my mother's handmade goodness. There would be bread made from the organic wheat that my father grew and milled and finally baked into bread, cut thick and smeared with natural peanut butter, you know, the kind with the inch of oil on top, that refuses to spread so it just kind of sits on top in a big glob. I have many memories of my mouth being glued shut from the wholewheat bread with dried up peanut butter on it, which required several gulps of water just to make it moist enough to chew. There would be apples or oranges, a big bottle of water in a recycled juice bottle we would all share from, and hopefully there would be an empty rice cake bag full of popcorn, with real butter, soy sauce and brewers yeast-this was dessert!
I remember looking around the cafeteria with the school motto, Fly Like an Eagle, painted on the wall at all the other kids eating out of their Disney inspired lunch boxes of white bread, individually wrapped processed cheese and bologna sandwiches, or sugar peanut butter with grape jelly. They also enjoyed small packets of fruit roll-ups and fruit chews, sometimes they ate Lunchables complete with a little compartment just for dessert, and they always had a juice box, and some kind of sweet; hostess things, cookies that nobody actually made, but came in a package and were of uniform size, taste and texture, or cupcakes with frosting in the most unnatural shades of pink and blue. The song from Sesame Street would go through my head “Which one of these things is not like the others...” as I would return to my all natural cement sandwich.