Rashomon in the kitchen.

What is this thing called memory? Here’s Kate and me yesterday, in the kitchen. She’s making lunch, I’m making beet salad. Her peanut-butter-spreading isn’t going well, because she’s doing it with one hand. The other is pinching her nose shut, so grossed out is she by the smell of the beets I’m dicing.

“Oh, knock it off, DQ,” I tell her. (DQ is, of course, “drama queen.”) “It’s not like I’m making you eat it.”

“You did once,” she says. I protest. I have never, in my life, succeeded in getting her to take more than one bite of anything she doesn’t like. The tears, the gagging and the generalized histrionics all remind me that meals are supposed to be pleasant, and that one of these days she’ll come around, or else she won’t. Every crazy woman I know is crazy on the subject of food. The world doesn’t need another one. Your mileage may vary, but I know my own kid. This is a battle I choose to sidestep.

“And remember that time you wouldn’t let me go to the Halloween party because I wouldn’t finish my spinach?” she said.

Finish your spinach? You never even started spinach. You ate it when I fed it to you from a baby-food jar, but once you could feed yourself you never ate spinach.”

“No,” she said. “I ate one bite, and you said I had to eat it all, or else I couldn’t go to the party.”

I have no memory of this. None. Kate has a richly detailed one, involving tears and a sad phone call to another kid who was at the party. (“I couldn’t come because I wouldn’t eat my spinach.”) One of us is full of crap, if not spinach. Who?

I asked if she had another other tales of trauma relating to food. She claims I once took her down to the basement, pulled down her undies and spanked her because she wouldn’t eat her peas. This is plainly false. I remember every time I ever spanked her, if you could call a single open-handed swat to the fanny a spanking. I think it was maybe three times. That’s how many times it took me to learn that a) it doesn’t work; and b) it really does hurt you worse than it hurts them. Timeouts and in-room quarantines were far more effective, and entertaining to us as parents, as when she sat by the furnace vent in her room and wailed, “I will not…be locked in my room…like an ANIMAL!” Alan and I were laughing so hard we feared she could hear us.

She also said I sent her to her room because she wouldn’t eat pancakes. It’s possible. I have a vague memory of having nothing suitable for dinner one night and announcing we were having breakfast instead, with bacon, eggs and pancakes at 7 p.m. She probably objected with the usual right-wing conservatism pre-schoolers bring to all arguments, and I may have sent her to her room for being such a pill.

Beyond that, though, we were miles apart. I pointed out the logical inconsistencies in her recollection. Why would I take her to the basement to spank her? Why would I pull down her undies? Clearly she was confusing some pre-K incident of pee-pee comparison with some other trauma. No, she insisted.

“I remember it as though it were yesterday,” she said, totally serioius. Aha. Obviously a line stolen from a Disney Channel movie. But she really was serious. To her, this happened.

So I started thinking, once again, about this mass of Jell-O we all carry around between our ears, and its amazing ability to fool us into, well, any number of things. What is “the truth” when it comes to me, Kate and our disagreements at the dinner table? A video camera recording these scenes would show one thing, but the video recorders in our brains play back another thing entirely. All three constitute some version of “the truth,” but what is it?

Some years ago I read “A Thousand Acres,” Jane Smiley’s masterful retelling of “King Lear” on an Iowa farm. I have to warn you of an impending spoiler, which seems silly, since the story is based on a 400-year-old play, but the novel plows a little new ground, and posits that the estrangement between the father and his two eldest daughters — but not his youngest — was based on sexual abuse, the memory of which one of the daughters suppressed entirely, until it all comes back to her in a terrible rush. This was a popular belief at the time the novel was written, that something so awful could happen to a person that it could be hidden behind a black curtain in one’s mind, perhaps to lurk forever, perhaps to be revealed in a second-act climax.

It never seemed entirely digestible to me. Altering a memory? Sure. Obscuring a memory? Absolutely. But burying it as though it never happened at all? If no alcohol or drugs were involved, it seemed far-fetched. My friends who are clinical psychologists say it happens all the time, but I’m still skeptical. It just sounded like really shaky science, and a recipe for disaster — people jailed for crimes they didn’t commit, based on highly suspect testimony.

The question was never really resolved, but certainly suppressed-memory syndrome has fallen out of favor as a topic for movie plot twists and daytime talk shows (if only this would happen to the paternity-testing gimmick). Smiley herself no longer discusses “A Thousand Acres,” I notice, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s why. How awkward, to win a Pulitzer Prize for an otherwise brilliant novel with a rusty hinge at its center.

I keep telling Kate that if she only takes a bite of my beet salad — roasted beets, toasted walnuts, bleu cheese and balsamic vinegar — she will love it as much as I do. She refuses, of course. In her mind, she already has.

So, bloggage and clarifications:

Mitch Harper picked up on a line in my recollection of the Warsaw Street market the other day, the one about the couple who had been married 60 years and plainly hated one another. He asked if I was referring to the Klines, who anchored the place for years. Of course I wasn’t. Amos and Marce Kline were married at least that long but were giddily in love with one another. One of the saddest things about my Saturday visits was talking to Amos in the years after Marce died; he was simply devastated by her loss. He died last year, and it was one passing that I took note of and told myself, “Wherever he is, I hope he’s with Marce again.” That was a match for eternity.

No, it wasn’t them. I forget the name of the couple I’m thinking of, probably because I always thought of them as the Bickersons.

OK, then: I was purging bookmarks last night and almost cleansed Gregg Sutter’s blog, so infrequently is it updated. But I hit it one last time and I’m glad I did, because otherwise I would have missed this gem, complete with un-PC illustration. Memories of a Catholic boyhood? The setup for another Elmore Leonard novel? Your call.

On that note, I’m outta here for the weekend. Happy egging. I’ll be eating beet salad.

Posted at 10:24 am in Same ol' same ol' |

29 responses to “Rashomon in the kitchen.”

  1. John said on April 6, 2007 at 10:42 am

    I would love to try your beet salad. Hopefully, Gregg doesn’t get a visit from Bill Donohue’s Ninja squad. Happy Easter! Eat lots of deviled eggs and honk twice for Satan!

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  2. MichaelG said on April 6, 2007 at 11:30 am

    I don’t know much about memory except that mine isn’t what it used to be. Boy am I ever with Kate on the subject of beets. YUK! This is a big upside for my erstwhile dear one. Now she can eat beets to her heart’s content without having to listen to my moaning. I do like spinach, though. And brussels sprouts.

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  3. Jen said on April 6, 2007 at 11:31 am


    Check out “Stumbling on Happiness,” by Daniel Gilbert. Talks a whole lotta about how our squishy jellos manufacture memory, and how that affects how we see happiness, in particular.

    Happy Easter!

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  4. Danny said on April 6, 2007 at 11:33 am

    Nance, I too have been (and still am) skeptical about the repressed memory phenomenon, but I have known two people who had pretty convincing stories. One was a girl I lived with and was engaged to when I was in my early twenties. The other is a woman who is a very good friend of ours today. Both cases were sexual abuse.

    The former fiancee’s story was that she started having emotional issues, went to counselling with a therapist who was an adherrant of repressed memory theory and through hypnotic therapy, she started “remembering” things. I didn’t know what to make of it, but I tried to be supportive. Then two weeks into this whole ordeal, my fiancee’s older sister calls out of the blue and unsolicited from out of state and starts spilling her guts about the abuse that happened to her at the hands of the step-father and about how she planned to go public to the rest of the family with it. She told my fiancee that she didn’t know if it had happened to her also, but it would not be a far stretch. The older sister said she tried to protect the two younger ones as much as she could. When she called, she had no idea that her youngest sister (my fiancee) was dealing with any of these issues. Weird, huhn?

    So, who knows.

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  5. michaelj said on April 6, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    In either 5th or 6th grade I informed a nun that, since I’d ransomed the little bastard, I could name my pagan baby anything I wanted, and I liked the sound of Lucifer. I pointed out, reasonably, I thought, that the fallen one had been an archangel, and his name was simply Latin for Bearer of Light. Just one in a long line of run-ins with the Sisters of St. Joseph.

    (This took place at the parochial school attached to St. Hugo of the Hills, in Bloomfield HIlls, the country bumpkin, J. Walter Thompson flogging, Pultey-sheltered, nouveau-riche poor relation to the various Grosses back in the 60s. The Church was supposedly dismantled and looted from somewhere in France and brought back to commemorate a beloved son lost on a WWI battlefield. It’s an architectural gem, as I recall it, with an astounding pipe organ that evoked Bach. Worth a drive to see.)

    Interesting juxtaposition of this Pagan Baby piece with the discussion of repressed memories of sexual abuse. Restoring repressed memory in order to bring massive lawsuits was surely the psychotherapeutic cottage industry of choice for a lot of charlatans in the 80s and 90s, and a lot of clients were certainly highly suggestible (by choice or nervous temperament). I’m not saying that abuse wasn’t all too common, but sometimes, I’m pretty sure I remember fondling at that Babdiss day camp when we moved to Memphis. Now there are some deep pockets. Any way, here’s
    a well-footnoted article on the subject from a website that I don’t really think has an axe to grind.

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  6. Scout said on April 6, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    I’d love to see the recipe in its entirety — you know, with measurements. I love beets! And walnuts! And Bleu cheese! And balsamic!

    My youngest daughter still tells people that I grounded her for one whole year because she got bad grades. She insists that she wasn’t even allowed to go to dance classes and no showing her the VIDEO of her performance in the annual recital (in which she is featured in something like 8 different numbers involving tap, jazz ballet and tumbling) changes that story one iota.

    Maybe all children need at least one story of “abuse” in order to fit in with all the rest of the traumatised products of dysfunctional families that comprise pretty much the entire population. Rare is the occassion when I hear someone say, “Oh yeah, I had a GREAT childhood!”

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  7. brian stouder said on April 6, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    She probably objected with the usual right-wing conservatism pre-schoolers bring to all arguments

    This rang true – but incomplete.

    Two of the three young folks in our house are staunchly conservative when it comes to things they consider edible. They evince very little tolerance for New Ideas or Progressive Thinking, if mom dares to place something different in front of them at supper time (but our 2.75 year old daughter is an exuberant eater, and will try practically anything we put in front of her)

    On the other hand, when the young folks WANT something (as opposed to resisting something) – then they go all Leftwing-Liberal crooks&liars/tpm/daily kos – and loudly decry how UNFAIR the current set-up is, and that the only FAIR solution would actually be to CHANGE things in accordance with their unerring, morally superior compass!

    Kids nowadays, I tell ya

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  8. deb said on April 6, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    i remember a time when you were trying to get kate to take just a bite of BREAD. and homemade bread, at that. you abuser, you!

    regarding repressed memory, i was in a car accident in high school. we hit a telephone pole and flipped over, but my memory goes from skidding in the middle of the road and hearing somebody say earnestly, “jesus,” to being upside down in the dark. not only do i not remember the crash, i don’t remember the car aiming at the telphone pole. so did i “forget” this because i hit my head and was knocked unconscious, or did my brain repress it? no clue. i’ve always wondered.

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  9. cce said on April 6, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    I’m with Deb… a lot of my childhood is patchy, vaguely linked together recollections with glaring gaps. But I’m pretty darn sure those gaps don’t contain any abuse. But who knows, maybe the novel I’m working on will reveal a rusty hinge or two.

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  10. nancy said on April 6, 2007 at 6:37 pm

    Beet salad recipe

    Find some beets. Doesn’t have to be a lot. I usually buy a single grocery-store bunch, which can range from two baseball- to six golf ball-size specimens. I twist off the greens, rinse them off and put them in a casserole-type roasting pan in a 375/400-degree oven for one hour. (Put some water in the pan — not a lot — and cover it with something, so it doesn’t evaporate.)

    After one hour, they should be nice and tender. Let them cool, after which the skins will slip right off under your hand. Slice or dice to your preference. You’ll have 1-2 cups of beets.

    Add a half-cup or so of roasted walnuts. (I do them on top of the stove in a saute pan. Shake ’em every so often so they don’t burn. When they’re brown and smell good, they’re done. Salt if you like. And if they’re not chopped already, do so.)

    Toss with a tablespoon or two of balsamic vinegar and maybe a quarter-cup of crumbled bleu cheese. Adjust seasonings and ingredients to your preference. Serve anywhere from room temp to cold. Find a small child to torture.

    And that’s it. I’m a pretty casual cook.

    Oh, and Deb — I don’t consider not remembering every detail of a car crash to be a suppressed memory. I think it’s a function of your speeding brain being wrenched around. After all, you remember you were *in* a car crash; you just have some dark spots. I have a several-minute blackout from Kate’s birth that probably had to do with oxygen deprivation (although I was wearing a mask) or maybe Mother Nature’s mercy. But I remember I had a kid.

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  11. MichaelG said on April 6, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    My daughter was always a negotiator. If we wanted her to clean her room (hah) for instance, she would counter with an offer to, for example, just remove the six or eight half full water glasses now and clean the rest tomorrow or some such nonsense. I used to have to leave the room to laugh. And now she’s pregnant with my second grandkid.

    Good lord, beet pornography! I hope, Nance, that you have a palatable alternative to feed your poor suffering child in lieu of those awful beets. I may have to alert child protective services.

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  12. Scout said on April 6, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks for posting the recipe — it’s printed and a grocery list has been drafted.

    Happy Easter weekend, and I think you’ll be smashing in black.

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  13. Michael said on April 6, 2007 at 8:13 pm

    I love moments of syncronicity.

    Tonight’s dinner included, salt and pepper crusted tuna (seared barely), wild rice, and roasted beets (with rosemary). My cosmopolitan 8 year old (boy) devoured all the beets we would serve him, and then offered to finish the serving dish remains.

    I felt like my Jack who once had to say to his grandson, no more broccoli until you finish your shrimp!

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  14. michaelj said on April 6, 2007 at 8:25 pm

    Actually, y’all, there is such thing as beet pornography. Well, it’s decidedly softcore and hipper than thou, and it’s pretty funny, in a particularly smart-assed way: Jitterbug Perfume. Very enjoyable book. Though, since it’s Easter, the more suitable Tom Robbins Coming about discovering Jesus’ body is in some Vatican crypt catacombs and liberating it in a hot-air baloon with a shaman orang as a partner.

    Maybe I did abuse drugs and that’s why I get a kick out of these Tom Robbins ditties. I know the guy’s a guilty pleasure for an adult. But when I hear about Sanjaya I assume that’s some Bangladeshi Pagan Baby adopted by a hermaphroditic dwarf team on Great Survivor Race, so I’m left with books

    I think critics dismiss Tom Robbins because he’s cutesy, he’s a hippy. But they’re jealous of just how easy it comes to him to be funny, wise and well-written. Same critics won’t say a word good about Tom McGuane. He’s a smartass, a roughneck, and holy shit he lives in the wilderness (of course, so does Cormac McCarthy, and these jerks kiss his ass in their somnambulations.) Since this is NancyNalls.com, I’d like to point out that if there’s a Great Michigan Novel, it is most assuredly and undeniably The Sporting Club

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  15. a different Connie said on April 7, 2007 at 12:41 am

    I think that Kate’s “memory” of you spanking her in the basement was actually a dream. The picturues and stories in our minds that are dreams can be so vivid that we remember them as if we were recalling actual events.

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  16. basset said on April 7, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    that salad would be real tasty if it had something other than beets in it.

    > I informed a nun that, since I’d ransomed the little bastard, I could name my pagan baby anything I wanted

    someone please explain that. I’m not Catholic and have no idea what he’s talking about.

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  17. velvet goldmine said on April 7, 2007 at 4:20 pm

    Michaelj — Jitterbug Perfume is one of those books I read over and over again and swoon over each time. I’ve even ordered a scent called “Pan” which was supposedly inspired by the book. It’s not meant to replicate K23, but the spirit of Pan in the book. It even has tincture of goat hair in it!

    Actually, I found that perfume wretched, which is why some books are best not turned into movies, or perfume. Still, I’ve pondered whether to create my own version of K23, which, it turns out, is a fairly standard obsession with scent hobbyists. (I was thinking mushroom extract in place of beet pollen…..similar earthiness, one would think.)

    But, anyway, as you know from Robbins — beets are heroic!

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  18. michaelj said on April 7, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    velvet, if K23 were produced, wouldn’t God’s creation become horny minks?

    Personally, I LOVE THE BOOK BECAUSE pAN IS INVOLVED. I’ve never found any sort of musk to be remotely inspiring. Open fields, rain, saltwater. Saltwater and serious aloe. These things Jack Daniel. These things produce offspring. The Boss for three hours, that produces progeny.

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  19. michaelj said on April 7, 2007 at 7:42 pm

    Way I see it, every other DNA bearing creature does this bizarre thing without embarrassment for some sort of genetic imperative. What makes us human is we really like it and it causes us endless pain ands happiness as almost equal parts, hypersensory perceptions, enduring attachments, kids we value more than ourselves.

    Anybody would be willing to do things during sex they’d rather not tell anybody else about.
    who call’s the shots?

    What we’ve got is an obscene commentariat that have decided the Brit POWs (Look aholes, they invaded, they spied, if the Iranian Navy tried it in Urqharts’s Bay, you know where we should be thankful Burt Lancaster believed in preserving wetlands.) The deqal is these are the most egregious chickenhawks that ever lived. Please, somebody confront the pitiful little shit psychiatrist that never knew shit about anything remotely related to foreign policy or anything but the AIPAC Party Line. Yeah, that asshole. Well he actually thought his mortal body might have served when he looked at the india rubber ball in his Commander in Thiefs announcement of Mission Accomplishe. Is there a tether?

    And Jerusalem? As I see things, what makes God God is that he really doesn’t play sides. He think your all a bunch of idiots

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  20. michaelj said on April 7, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    I need to move my sorry ass. I got on to this frequently too twee, actuallu rarely too, from Eric Zorn. Thinks he knows something about music.

    Here’s what I think before anything else. The prayer to the blessed virgin makes more sense than anything else.

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  21. Dorothy said on April 7, 2007 at 8:30 pm

    Basset I’m Catholic, and I remember the phrase “pagan babies” because I went to Catholic school for 8 years. But I seem to be having memory gaps regarding specific details about them. Isn’t that timely, though??

    Happy Easter all, and Happy Birthday tomorrow to my baby, who turns 22. He was born the day after Easter in 1985. My memory is firm in the knowledge that this is his first Easter birthday ever.

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  22. basset said on April 7, 2007 at 9:55 pm

    The only context I have for “pagan babies” is an Elmore Leonard novel about a South American nun, so I dunno.

    Leonard, of course, being MY idea of a great novelist. Never could get through more than a few pages of Tom Robbins, and I’m still not eating any damn beets.

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  23. Nance said on April 7, 2007 at 11:52 pm

    Pagan babies were young Catholics’ first exposure to charitable giving. They were allegedly children who had been taken in by nuns in heathen lands, there to be educated and baptized as Catholics. Catholic kids in this country put money in UNICEF-like collection boxes to help support the work.

    As Sutter quotes from the papal encyclical on Catholic missions, the effort was for “the redemption and Catholic education of heathen babies who have been abandoned by their parents or have been exposed to death as often happens in certain lands.” Note the picture of the nice white kid feeding the little black, Asian and Indian-looking kids.

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  24. michaelj said on April 8, 2007 at 9:00 am

    OK, Nancy. Stop your whining about the weather. Isn’t it amazing that entirely insane politicians (and who elects wackjob’s like this?) cite totally bizarre weather occurrences to insist that mankind hasn’t completely FUBARED weatther in general?

    I made fun of Pagan Babies. There were probably nuns that were raped and murdered by Raygunistas because they felt a vocation. I apologize. In the long run, we Catholics, at present, aren’t oppressors, we’re a demonic sect. The Supreme court said so in Gore v. FLAPainted Lady.

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  25. Mitch Harper said on April 8, 2007 at 10:40 am

    Yes, I alarmedly asked whether the reference was to Amos and Marceil Kline. They were the nicest folks one could meet.

    They were key in ensuring that the South Side Farmer’s Market endured.

    Good to know that you are advancing the cause of beets. Fresh out of the garden – they are extraordinarily sweet. The school lunch program, unfortunately, turned off a generation to the notion of eating beets. The horrible “Harvard beets” served in cafeterias are nothing like the real thing.

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  26. basset said on April 9, 2007 at 12:35 am

    that’s what put me off ’em… nasty sour slices of some turnipy substance, shut up and clean your plate.

    I still don’t like tomato juice because we were forced to drink it in kindergarten… out of half-pint glass bottles, that’s how long ago it was.

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  27. brian stouder said on April 9, 2007 at 9:39 am

    My dad loved beets – or more precisely, store-bought pickled beets in a glass jar.

    Thinking back, it is possible that the beets were only incidental, since he would keep the jar with the violet ‘beet juice’ in the refrigerator after the beets were gone, and put peeled hard-boiled eggs in there…

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  28. LA mary said on April 9, 2007 at 11:02 am

    You could make the beet salad with arugula and it would be lovely. Don’t roast and peel the arugula, though. Sweet potatoes might work too, but that’s a little iffy. Raw fennel would be good with walnuts and bleu cheese.
    Now I’m getting hungry and it’s only eight in the morning here.

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  29. Kate who hates beets :-P!! said on April 12, 2007 at 6:17 pm

    IT REALLY HAPPENED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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