I was a tiny little kid with an appetite like a farmhand.
My younger sister outgrew me early on, and I was the smallest of all the cousins, so everything I wore was well used, and I never grew out of a thing—it all just wore out.
I was the end of the line for many a garment.
But I had an endless appetite and a rapid-fire metabolism, so I stayed and stayed and stayed tiny, even in college, which is just not fair, I know.
A coming appetite
My grandmother used to put a meal in front of me and say she’d rather feed ten hungry men than one “with a coming appetite.”
I had no idea what that meant and just kept asking for more.
Fortunately, the food at home was great. I grew up in the 60s and 70s, so we could have been eating a lot of manufactured, newly invented convenience food, but nope, we ate homemade country food.
I loved meatloaf, pork chops, green beans, lima beans, black-eyed peas, spinach, beets, fresh corn, corn soup, fried apples (not sweet, but savory, by the way—they’re a Virginia thing and are amazing), fresh tomatoes, fresh cucumbers, and on and on.
In fact, homegrown summer tomatoes are still my favorite food ever. My mom or my grandmother would put a plate of sliced tomatoes on the table and I’d eat them all, assuming the whole plate was for me.
Lordy, give me a plate of tomatoes and a salt shaker! Oh, and a big glass of unsweet iced tea. (I never did like sweet tea.)
My eyes lit up at the thought of my next meal
It’s not like my mom and grandmother were trying to prove anything. That’s just the way they cooked, and the great majority of what we ate growing up was pretty damned healthy, country cooked or not.
But I’m not gonna lie and tell you I didn’t like me a little Cap’n Crunch now and again, too.
We were just fortunate that sort of thing was what I’ve managed to convince my kids is “fun food.” It wasn’t our sustenance. I suppose we were fortunate that the cheap stuff back then was also the healthy stuff.
Oh, but we did get us some TV dinners on occasion.
Admittedly, they never lived up to the picture on the front, no matter how carefully we peeled back the foil to brown the desert, but nevertheless, it felt rebellious to eat food that came out of a box from the freezer.
And in front of the TV, no less, just like the name promised.
Anyhoo, back to the appetite
When I was fifteen, our mother married our stepfather, and when she would fill my dinner plate with actual piles of food, my brand-new stepfather would understandably say, “She can’t eat all that.”
Poker-faced, my mom would reply, “Watch her.”
My sister recalls that every time she turned around, someone was making me another grilled-cheese sandwich.
My favorite foods weren’t treats and chocolate, but instead I liked a full-out meal and could eat a steak the size of a dinner plate and still polish off the vegetables and bread.
There was little I didn’t like, though, and I ate our usual Southern fare with enthusiasm, but not at the expense of unusual foods—I’d try anything.
For instance, I didn’t grow up on the coast, but I loved oysters from an early age (even though I thought people were saying “horses” not “oysters,” which should have alarmed someone but it apparently didn’t). I loved fresh asparagus (I didn’t taste the canned kind for years) and freshly steamed artichokes with hollandaise sauce. Artichokes hadn’t yet reached the level of familiarity that they have today—they were weird, but that didn’t bother me one whit. My mom had a taste for the exotic, apparently.
A freak of nature
My sister was muscular and athletic, but her appetite was only so-so. I was a bookworm built like a cotton ball but ate more like a football player.
It made no sense, and no one else in the family had an appetite like mine. I was a freak of nature, I guess.
And I loved it.
Everything just tasted so good.
One time while on a date in college, my date shook his head and smiled as he said, “You have a good appetite.”
I was proud to reply, “Yes, I do,” and kept eating.
Another college date’s father said that I ate too much and told his son that I’d “have a problem” some day.
Comments like that one, which haunted me, and other mean tidbits of societal conditioning propelled me to worry about my weight for years, when clearly I could have spent my energy more wisely. And damaged my self-image a lot less.
I recently looked at pictures from my college years and my post-baby years and was stunned—seriously: stunned—to see that I looked terrific. But I always thought I needed to lose five, sometimes ten pounds.
What a damn waste. What the hell could I have been thinking?
Then a few years after my first child was born, my appetite began to take its leave. Where I had enjoyed my food so much that my mother still says I was a pleasure to feed, food had lost much of its appeal.
Nothing was all that exciting anymore.
Eight years earlier, I’d married a skinny man, a grazer, who couldn’t eat like I could, especially at one sitting, and I’d happily finish his meals, but all that enthusiasm went away. I no longer ate with gusto. I no longer looked forward to meals.
Then I got tired and cranky and was on edge a lot.
My hair appeared to have turned a sort of Sherwood Forest green.
My strength and energy felt like they were literally draining like liquid from my arms and legs.
I took long naps even after a full night’s sleep.
I finally realized something was wrong and went to a doctor. After searching under this and that diagnostic rock for the cause of my troubles, the doctor declared that I had a sluggish thyroid gland.
I had hypothyroidism, for which I received medication and began to feel a helluva lot better. My hair came back to life, too. Mostly.
My appetite picked back up and is now more normal than freakish like it used to be, but I really, really miss the sheer pleasure of absolutely loving to eat.
I had a nine-month reprieve
Except for during a glorious second pregnancy when every meal was a great meal, my appetite has never really been the same after my thyroid gland went off kilter. I joke that it’s a good thing because otherwise, I’d be as big as a barn.
But I can’t help but wonder what went wrong.
I can’t help but imagine that if I still enjoyed my food as much as I assumed I always would, my body would still be capable of handling it.
When I was in my twenties, a co-worker said that I was one of those people who would always be the same size, and while I’m grateful that’s been more or less true, it sure would be a pleasure to give my metabolism a run like I used to.
Because those were some mighty good times.