Jerry's View: Have a half-stick of gum; Don't eat that shiny apple

by Jerry Robinson

Just last week I was doing my daily grind on the treadmill while my faithful caregiver sat beside me on a recumbent bike. I did 15 minutes before she got tired, so out of a sense of duty, I stopped to console her. After all she’s 30 years younger than I and it was only right that I should be aware of her limitations.

I was sweaty as a winter window. She seemed fresh as a new cucumber. Nobody told me women don’t sweat when they work out.

      It is not easy being 93. I have to choose between fresh peaches, cereal and coffee each morning over maybe oatmeal and toast and juice. My own doc said I could eat what I want. That I’ve earned the right to it. I don’t know.

       This long, hot summer has taken its toll on me. It seems like yesterday I was running barefoot through Peninsula Park in Portland, Oregon. I was ten. It was sunny. We did not think about it much. Now, if I go out to my deck, I have to wear sunscreen and a hat. I have an umbrella to keep in the shade. What happened?

As a kid, the second youngest of a family of 10 and the baby boy, my older siblings doted on me a bit. Especially my older brother, Russell. He was not only older, he was taller and tougher than me. He was my protector from the inevitable skirmishes that kids get into. He used to make me walk bent over with my head under his arm. I figured it was the way things were supposed to be. I loved him because he always gave me his old crepe-soled shoes when he got a new pair. The holes in the soles were not that bad.

On summer days, like we have had around here lately, we kids would leave the house in the morning and be gone all day. Mom never knew where we were or what we were doing. But it usually involved something dangerous and even foolish, especially by today's sense of over-protectiveness. If we fell down and got a bloody cut on our leg, we would put fern juice on it. If we got a bee sting, we'd plaster it with mud. If we got a bump on the noggin, well, there wasn't much to do except rub it a little and wince.

I really can't remember how we would be able to go all day without food and water, like Jean Valjean in a French prison. Maybe it was because we were already so skinny we could get by on less.

Sometimes, we'd run across a patch of wild berries. Or an apple tree. In that case, we would make sure to take apples home to mom. With the minimal ingredients we had on hand, she could make something sweet and wonderful from those apples.

Nobody told me we were poor. And I never thought I was. I knew some of the neighbors had more. Some dads had automobiles and once in a while when I was visiting a school chum, I would see store-bought baked goods on the table and wonder what they tasted like. I even thought a beautiful fruit display on Mrs. Clover's dining room table was real fruit until I took a waxy bite. I carefully turned it bite-side down and escaped in my embarrassment.

It's funny. These impressions carried over into my adult life. I did not have dressing on a salad until I was 35. Nobody told me about vinegar and oil, blue cheese or even mayonnaise. We didn't have those things in my childhood home.

My tastes for food to this day are simple. I like a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of milk. I like a piece of white bread smothered in gravy. I like clam chowder with some crackers crumbled in it.

I have been lucky in business and been able to travel to exotic places and taste different foods. I have dined at the French Officer's Club in Berlin, on Chateaubriand, escargot and asparagus. I've eaten lobster tail in Boston, Gyros in Philadelphia and Oysters in Rockefeller Square. But my taste remains elemental. I am content with a cheese sandwich and a glass of lemonade.

Something about growing up with little in the larder has taught me to be conservative. Through life, if I had a stick of gum, I always tore it in half so that I would have some gum for later if I wanted it. There may still
be some half-sticks in my old pants.