“Eat the crusts, Amanda. They’ll make your hair curly.”
I can still hear the voice of my gramps saying those words with a few threads of New Jersey wrapped around them. We’d sit at a small table—4 kids, two parents and two grandparents. No matter how little the elbow room was, the table was always properly set: bread plate, salad bowl, and water glass on the right, above the knife.
I remember the little details of that table, knots in the light colored wood. The faded pink cushions with little blue flowers. The celery slivers in every salad and the catalina dressing my granny made sure was on the table—I believed it was just for me.
At some point, every dinner around that table would consist of Andy, Kelly and me arguing over who got to use the one children’s plate with the little Pluto caricature printed on it, probably leftover from my uncle’s childhood. There would be conversations about Granny’s cooking, whether or not Gramps would make us watch the Lawrence Welk Show after dinner, and how picky of an eater I was.
Gramps always led the mission to get me to eat everything on my plate. The Great Depression and hard times from my gramps’ childhood would never be mentioned. However, starving children in China might be brought up and so would my gramps’ and granny’s excellent health.
“I don’t know why you won’t eat everything here, Amanda. I eat everything your gran puts before me, and look at me, my health is great. I don’t think you realize how good you’ve got it.”
As I cringed through bites of things like baked salmon or tomato casserole or green beans, my gramps would glance at the remains of a French bread slice on my plate. I had buttered my bread, consumed the soft insides and left the hard, heat-kissed outsides behind.
“You know, Amanda. Crust gives you curly hair. Wouldn’t you like curly hair?”
As a child of the eighties, all I wanted in life was big hair and bangs—big, curled up high with a few curled whisps on my forehead. I remember when my mom let me perm my hair in third grade, and I crossed my fingers for body and height and curls. The permanent did not live up to my expectations and fell out in a month’s time.
|I am fairly certain I begged my mom to do this to my hair. I am also pretty sure I thought it looked amazing.|
|My cousin and I with CRIMPED hair and an attempt at big bangs.|
With hope for better tresses, I ate my crusts. I guess I thought perhaps the brown outsides of bread held some kind of hair-curling nutrient. I think I was in seventh grade brushing out my fine straight hair when it occurred to me, I had been eating my crusts for years and still didn’t even have a wave. I’d been duped. Bread crusts having magic hair-curling properties was a myth just like tooth fairies, Santa Claus, and “don’t make that face or it’ll stay that way permanently.”
As my gramps is living out his last days… hospice has been called, his body is shutting down, he has forgotten who each one of his grandkids are… I feel like I am grieving the loss of my granny, my childhood days spent at their house all over again along with grieving the loss of my gramps. I am mourning the passing of a generation. As my parents become my grandparents and I become my parents, I marvel at the way time marches onward, and it does not stop.
|Gramps, Granny and my dad. Circa 1952|
When you leave this earth, you can’t take anything with you, you can only leave behind. I think it's in all of us to want to know that at the end of our life that we will leave behind something good, something that lasts, something that keeps getting passed on.
As I try to think of what it is my Gramps would pass on, I think of bread crusts. The way as a child I wanted to just eat the soft insides and avoid the bitterness and hardness of the crust. The way I didn’t want to eat what wasn’t pleasant.
And don’t I sometimes want to live life that way? I open my hand to the beautiful wedding day, the snuggles and the I-love-you-to-the-moon-and-backs, the house and the yard with the tire swing. But sometimes I want to close my hand to the hard, the hard parts in marriage, the temper tantrums in the grocery stores, the miscarriages, the job losses, the times of more month than money. I see the good stuff as a gift but I fail to see the value in the hard stuff.
My grandparents were crust eaters. Overcomers. Hard workers. People who married for life even on the bad days. People who lived through wars and Depressions and things like obstinate children who joined the Marines instead of the Navy, a disabling injury, many cross country (and even cross world) moves, and the death of a grandchild. They were people who knew the value of everything put on their plate.
They knew how good they had it.
To this day, I still eat my crust. And I am learning to “eat my crust” here where sometimes it’s hard and it doesn’t always make sense or seem fair. I might not have curly hair, but I know how good I’ve got it.
Care to reminisce with me? What is one thing your grandparents always told you to do?