My mother-in-law died last week. Aside from being a wonderful person in so many of the ways that count, she taught me to eat. I wanted to take a moment to remember and celebrate her for this.
I grew up in a household of dieting women. I think I understood that certain foods were good and certain foods were bad from the time I was one; in fact, one of my mother's favorite photos of me as a child shows me at about 16 months sneaking cookies from a tin in a kitchen cabinet. Hilarious, huh? In my family, the nicest thing you could possibly say to anyone is "You've lost weight!" Our family meals veered between the good stuff and Weight Watchers diet food, including possibly the worst "food" ever manufactured, diet chocolate mint soda.
My mother-in-law was thin. Not stick thin, not too thin, but thin in a healthy way. She was an athlete from before the days of Title IX, member of a curling team that won the national championships in the 1960s, tennis player, runner, and overall physically active person. And she loved both to cook and to eat.
At first her cooking appalled me. Real butter? We might all drop dead from eating that. Or at least gain 50 pounds. In my family quantity trumped quality any day.
But gradually I came to understand, from watching her cook and eat, that when you eat good food, real food, it's satisfying in a way that carrot sticks and artificial sweetener can never manage. That you don't need 20 cookies when they're made with real butter and chocolate; one or two suffices.
From my mother in law I began learning how to listen to my body's appetite and hunger, and satisfy it. I began the long process of learning to care for myself through eating, while stepping around the traps of obsession and guilt.
So as I mourn her passing, as I begin the long missing of her, I also want to celebrate her in this as well as so many other ways. Vivian, wherever you are, I'm raising a forkful of shrimp salad to you. Made with Hellman's mayonnaise, not the fake-o stuff, and served on good crackers. This one's for you.