Impeccable Logic

I reproved my ten year old son tonight when he was stuffing his face with popcorn, both fists employed busily. “Hey, Borg,” I said, “we don’t eat popcorn that way! You need to be civilized and take only what you can with one finger and thumb at a time.”

“Seriously, Mama!” That being the standard phrase to express incredulity or just plain disagreement. “I am conserving Therbligs, you know. This is much more efficient.” It was my turn to be unenlightened. My thirty-eight year old brain couldn’t come up with a definition for “Therbligs” or even a reference to them. “What?” I asked the obvious, “are Therbligs?”

He was ready for me. “They are the 18 motions that the Cheaper by the Dozen people studied when they did their efficiency evaluations in factories. It’s Gilbreth, spelled backwards. See, when I eat popcorn like this, I am conserving motions. It’s more efficient this way.” He was really on a roll now, and I knew that he had just finished reading “Cheaper by the Dozen” for the third time last week because I found it out under the tree that he climbs to become invisible while he is reading. I settled in to listen.

“There is even a Therblig for thinking about things and often if you do that first, you can save a lot of the other steps. That’s why I think so much.” I wondered if he was thinking about the most efficient popcorn eating method when I asked him to bring the bag of 5 dozen eggs in to the house and he let them sit in the hot Suburban all afternoon. But I digress. After he had made his case for eating popcorn in great gobbling fistfuls, I made my case.

“Someday,” I said. He sighed gustily and settled in to listen. “Someday you will be sitting with your girlfriend, eating popcorn, and when she sees you stuffing it in like that, she will tell you good-bye politely and you won’t ever see her again.” He was not convinced. Because obviously a ten year old boy will never have a girlfriend and it only makes sense to eat popcorn like a caveman to stave off that awful calamity.

“Are you saying I may not ever eat this way? Ever?”

“Only on the far side of the moon, when you are all by yourself.”

“Okay,” he agreed. “Only where not even astronauts can see me.”

We called it a truce.


Tomato Peights

Tomatoes. All kinds of tomatoes. Big ones, little ones, red ones, pink ones, yellow ones. If it’s true that, “you are what you eat,” the Peights are by and large tomatoes. The Peights have a predilection for tomatoes— a predilection that some would say borders an obsession.

As I was growing up on the farm at home in rural Pennsylvania, there were always tomatoes in one form or another about the house. Since our cravings were not seasonal, tomatoes claimed a dominant place in our garden and on the shelves in our cool, damp cellar. We canned tomato soup, spicy tomato juice, and tomato sauce in prodigious quantities. Other tomatoes we cut into large chunks and canned. With all these resources, we were able to regularly incorporate tomatoes into our diet throughout the year. Whenever we had fresh tomatoes, we ate them on our toast for breakfast and on fresh, homemade bread for lunch. Tomato slices with a layer of creamy Hellman’s mayonnaise and diced hard-boiled egg on top was a favorite salad dish for dinner. For a snack at bedtime or after church on Wednesday nights, we ate canned tomato chunks poured over a piece of bread and drank tall glasses of iced tomato juice.

This universal passion for tomatoes in my family was actually not original with us. My dad’s family was perhaps even more obsessed with tomatoes than we were. Dad came from a family of thirteen boys and two girls. To help feed a family of this size, they raised over a hundred tomato plants each year. The first ripening tomatoes of the season never made it to maturity. With so many tomato-lovers about it was entirely too risky to let them on the plant until they were completely ripe—they had to be grabbed while the grabbing was good!

Grandmother canned four hundred quarts of tomato juice and five hundred quarts of tomato chunks in “family size” two-quart Mason jars. In the wintertime, my uncles’ school lunches consisted of canned tomato chunks over homemade bread topped with sweet onion and course pepper. To drink, there was tomato juice. The story goes that on one occasion they had the normal— tomato chunks, and tomato juice—and, for a special treat, fresh tomatoes. In the summertime it was not unusual to have a single-course dinner of tomato sandwiches. One enormous stainless steel bowl of tomato slices was set at each end of the kitchen table along with a few loaves of fresh white bread. The highlight of the meal was the fight over the juice in the bottoms of the bowls. Again, every man was on his own. The timid got none.

Dad made a wise choice when he married Mom because she was able to support Dad’s well-established tomato habit in a very special way. Her family raised a pink, non-acid tomato that was handed down from her grandmother. Seeds from the best tomatoes were preserved every year to be planted the following year. These heirloom tomatoes became know as “Mother’s” tomatoes. Today, the “Mother’s” tomato crop defines the success of the summer.

For me a tomato is more than just a vegetable that adds color to a tossed salad. Tomatoes add color to my identity as a Peight. Every year as I now nurture my own tomato plants with my children, I am flooded with happy memories of my childhood as a tomato Peight.

-guest post, essay written by my husband Gabriel

And a photo of one small Peight enjoying her heritage