My neighbor Mildred and the Banana Diet

Food, glorious food! I…LOVE…food. These days it’s almost all organic fruit and veggies, but there was a time when I never met a cake, a chocolate covered vanilla creme confection, or a dripping ice cream cone I didn’t love. My favorite Sunday evenin’ dinner growing up was a big ‘ol pot roast sandwich on white bread, slathered with heaps of mayo and lots of sweet pickles and fresh onion. Turns out that only the onion was actually nutritious, but what a taste treat memory it is! Years later I developed a fear of food and thought that any food except for plain iceberg lettuce would make me blimp up. A professional musician/performer can’t just blimp up. I had a tendency toward about ten pounds of extra ‘more to love’ that would leap on me if I wasn’t vigilant. It seemed that all tasty food was somehow inherently bad. And much of it was. These days, my ‘more to love’ curves are curvier than a few decades ago, but I’m much healthier than I’ve been in a very long while. I’ll take healthy over skinny any day of the week.

Margaret Lillian Rose King, my mother, was the eighth of nine children growing up in the hills of East Margaret Lillian RoseTennessee and tried to give her children the comforts that she didn’t have as a child. She grew up without the convenience of turning on a faucet for water, or flushing a toilet, or running to the grocery store for that last minute dinner idea. Self-sufficiency was necessary, but made for a hard life. Grandma and Grandad Rose had chickens and a smoke house for meat from the hogs they raised. Grandad also somehow managed to plow a hill full of rocks for a garden. I remember that hill. It was daunting. So when Mother married Daddy in the prosperity of the post WWII boom, her life changed from hardship to a brand new Cadillac!

Mother was a nurturing cook. As the oldest of 4 rambunctious children, I was on the front end of her early 1950’s efforts to provide us with nourishing delicious meals which morphed into more convenient food preparation in later years as we absolutely wore her to a frazzle. I remember her meals looking just like those in the advertising of that era. Lots of beautiful, bountiful food with the family giving thanks with bowed heads. There were no bowed heads at our table however. We behaved like we hadn’t eaten for days. Throw in the bickering between the younger brothers, and Mother preferred not to sit down and eat with us. She just hovered until we were finished, waiting for enough peace to slowly eat and digest her food. Pretty sure she had less stomach issues than the rest of us.

Breakfast was juiced fresh oranges with cooked to order eggs and bacon and oven buttered toast, or brown sugar laden, steaming oatmeal with a bit of butter nestled in the middle. Mother also made absolutely delicious homemade biscuits, piping hot from the oven and ladled with gravy. If we begged, she would make homemade syrup for the biscuits as well (gosh…my curves are expanding just typing the words). Lunch was at school or a quick sandwich on white ‘enriched’ bread, gulping it down as we ran out the door to play baseball or throw rocks at each other or build a snowman. For dinner, our East Tennessee hills roots called for lots of meat or pinto beans and occasional little mounds of canned salmon called croquettes, coleslaw, fried okra, cornbread, sweet tea, and fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and melons from various relatives’ gardens. However some veggies, green beans in particular, were treated as though they had to die by over cooking.

Remember Coca-colas in small glass bottles? We weren’t supposed to drink those, but eventually we would risk a switchin’ with a keen tiny limb off of a small tree beside the driveway and suck one down anyway. Daddy liked slightly under ripe bananas with his vanilla ice cream, so Mother stocked those, but I thought he ate the ice cream to help those bananas taste better. And…Hershey’s chocolate bars. Mother finally resorted to hiding the chocolate bars in her lingerie drawer, but I tracked ’em down and lived to regret it. I couldn’t find the candy hiding places after that episode.

cropReading cookbooks has been a hobby since I first discovered Mother’s big red Betty Crocker Cookbook as a child. The three-ring binder with the removable pages is showing almost sixty-five years of wear, and those vivid, colorful pictures of categorized recipes are one of the most cherished reminiscences of my childhood. I desperately wanted to make that exotic Baked Alaska! So delicate with it’s lightly browned tips of meringue-sculpted waves over frozen ice cream domed in a scooped out layer of buttery cake! But alas, it was out of my experience range, so I opted to help Mother make Lemon Meringue Pies, none of which ever made the transition into a real pie. Yes…we dipped into those pies with great big spoons and filled our bowls with crunchy warm lemon heaven.

In years past on my quest for ‘skinny’, I tried every diet known to man or woman. Except the banana diet. I actually knew a woman who lost weight on nothing but bananas. She lived across the street. I was a constant visitor there because, unlike our house, it was nice and quiet. And ohhhhh lordy! The smells that came from her kitchen!

Mildred was a marvelous baker and decorator of cakes with big red roses with deep green leaves. Not the kind you squirt out of a tube. These delicate flowers were formed with pains-taking care out of that luscious sugary almond paste, marzipan. Marzipan called to Mildred like clay to a sculptor. I would watch with fascination as she constructed those roses petal by petal, tucking in each exquisite leaf with much care. Of course I knew that most of her cakes would be happily given away for a special event like Mother’s Day or a birthday party. But I also knew that if I lingered long enough, I would be offered a couple of damaged petals or even a special rose of my own. These were coveted because Mildred was an artiste. Her confections made me feel special.

Then there was the bubbling strawberry jam, not jelly…jaaaammm. Mildred would call my name, and I would run across the street to her house. There at her dining room table we ate fresh jam, still warm from the big pot, on some kind of delicious bread with lots of butter. It was my incredible luck that she had one skinny boy my age, who didn’t care one thing about the wondrous sweets his mom made in her beautiful turquoise green 1950’s kitchen. I was Mildred’s surrogate daughter in that kitchen. She wanted to share her experience, and I was the lucky, very willing recipient of all that lusciousness. My mother was a great cook, but I alone reaped the benefits of Mildred’s finesse. Neither of my brothers or my little sister were ever invited. By the way…Mildred, who only temporarily lost weight on the banana diet, unfortunately loved her own cooking too. Soon all those bananas went back into warm breads fresh out of her beautiful 1950’s turquoise green oven. And Mildred herself quickly regained those hard fought 100 pounds.

Housewife harriedOur moms and grandmas and neighbors like Mildred were good people who couldn’t have known at the time that we were beginning in earnest to kill our environment and food and bodies with synthetic pesticides the use of which accelerated in the 1940’s. And the 1950’s brought conveniences to moms like mine who helped her husband in his business while trying to still be a great mother to four kids. So frozen dinners, vegetable oil, and grocery stores teeming with pertly packaged products along with savvy advertising played right into the prosperity of the time, sending us down that slippery slope, “baa-baaaa-ing” and turning into the sheeple of today that the crap food industry loves.

The moral of the story? Anyone can lose weight short term on just about any ‘diet’ ever invented. For lasting change in your health (and weight loss will follow), eat tons of fresh organic, colorful vegetables and 4 to 6 different kinds of organic fruit daily. Choose healthy fats like avocados and nuts, as well as carefully researched untainted olive oil, or maybe a bit of walnut oil on a heaping pile of greens. Throw in no more than a 4oz portion of grass fed, pastured animal protein 1 or 2 times a week if you’re so inclined. Getting gluten, sugar, dairy, corn and corn products, canola oil, as well as most packaged items and fast food off your radar will scoot you way on down the road toward feeling really good. There is lots of info as to why these foods aren’t good for us, but my favorite source is Anthony William’s book, Medical Medium. Can’t beat this ground-breaking, dynamic read!

So here’s to Mildred! I still have the mem’ries, but not the sugar!





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