I guess the eating thing began sometime after our family moved into our new home that my dad built in McKinleyville. I say that we moved into our new home, and that is an altogether true statement, but the fact is that we really only moved into the master bedroom, since that was the only room in the house that was finished. A year or so later, my brother and I moved across the hall, and into our own bedroom that we shared. The family grew, and I was later relegated to a room on the far end of the house that was originally intended to be a game room. So at the ripe old age of 8 or 9, I had my own man cave, far away from the rest of the family. The house was well designed for its day, and featured three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large living room, and a formal dining room (and don’t forget my bedroom).
Dad worked as an electrician during the day, and by the time he got home, delicious smells of dinner would be emanating from the kitchen. We would all sit at the large table in the formal dining room; dad at the head of the table, and me to his immediate left, and mom to his right. It seemed fitting to dad that I should be close at hand so that he could cuff me, or take other measures, when he felt it was necessary. My sister and two brothers all sat further away from him, because there was rarely any need to correct them; I seemed to be his main focus (he thought he needed to be a little sterner with me, and rougher).
I have always had a great appetite, and can sometimes be caught eating voraciously, so dad set out early on training me to eat my food properly, and to chew thoroughly. “Twenty-five times,” he’d say. “I want to see you chew that mouthful twenty-five times before you swallow it.” I’d be sitting there, like, 3, 4, 5, 6. By the time I got to fifteen I’d have a mouth full of saliva and the food would be as mushy as baby food, and by the time I got to twenty-five, it was so tasteless I wanted to spit it out. The worst part of the whole thing was that I was the only one who had to do that, and whenever I would look across the table, Gary would be sitting there with a big grin on his face, adding humiliation to the torture. Why weren’t Gary, or Harley, or Diana required to sit there like a fool, chewing and drooling all inside their mouths? I asked dad that question, but was rebuffed. “You just worry about you.”
The story gets more complex at this point, and for expediency’s sake I’ll just say that my siblings all learned that it was okay to harass and criticize me, and that a pecking order had in fact been established through this process. The net result of this dinnertime fiasco (if you can visualize it) was a scene in which at any given time dad or Gary would be chomping profanely and grinning that particular grin, knowing that my role was to sit there, and shut up, and eat normally, and like it. I hated it.
This “family neurosis” began to extend far beyond the dinner table and into our everyday family life, and even into adulthood, since Gary and me both began our electrical careers working with dad.
I detest slovenly eaters to this day. People who crunch loudly or gulp their food or their drink pretty much drive me nuts, especially if they’re looking at you and smiling while they’re doing it.