Richard Daybell – Novels, stories and short humor
We were the first on our block to have a television set. Perhaps today that’s more a confession, an admission of weakness, than a source of pride. But back then it was a source of great pride. This, of course, was way back then — when we got our first television set, television programming didn’t invade our living rooms until four in the afternoon, and it exited by eleven, wrapping things up and signing off with the Star Spangled Banner and a test pattern, a device that tested the clarity of your vision or something like that. (The late night part is hearsay; I was not allowed, early on, to stay up that late.) But even though it was a mere seven hours of television, we flaunted it.
One problem with that early television schedule quickly surfaced – it stretched right through dinnertime. But technology would solve that problem for us, too. One night, with great ceremony, my father brought home the devices that would allow us to watch “Super Circus” and “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet,” without culinary interruption — TV trays. What a marvelous idea. They were tinny, vulgar and liable to collapse under anything heavier than roast beef, but night in, night out, my mother would slap a full meal right onto those trays.
Bless her. Given diners who never once dropped their eyes to look at their plates and a husband with the narrowest of gastronomic parameters, she still put that dinner on those TV trays every night, making certain that every meal, no matter how meat and potato it might be, was accompanied by a healthy salad. Little wooden bowls brimmed with lettuce, onion, carrot, celery and radish. We were partial to radishes – round and ruby red until cut by my mother into slices so uniform that, if they were placed side by side, you’d need a micrometer to measure the difference in thickness.
Though they all look pretty much the same, radishes can vary widely in their intensity of flavor, so it was not unusual that on one night our salads contained some particularly potent radishes. Nor was it unusual that a person such as myself who never checked to see what was on the salad fork before plunging it into his mouth might inadvertently bite into several radish slices at once. The resulting assault on tender ten-year-old taste buds was dramatic. And any adolescent gourmand in the same situation would, after the fire died down, shriek: “What are trying to do, kill us?”
My mother quickly and quietly, with mumbled apologies, removed the offending salad and went to the kitchen, where she remained, sitting in the shadows, most likely sobbing, while her selfish loved ones blithely watched television, unaware that a heart had been broken.
I thought nothing of my thoroughly ignoble behavior at the time; it was just one more carelessly tossed off cruelty. But as the years passed, that single unpleasant act began to haunt me more and more. My early visions of my mother sitting in the kitchen sniffling intensified as I aged. And finally my mother was wailing at the top of her lungs and beating her breast before finally flinging herself in anguish against the refrigerator door. And it was all my doing.
When I reached the age she would have been on that day of infamy and then some, I finally had to face my personal devils. One night over martinis, during a visit with my mother, I broached the subject, and words of remorse began to tumble from my mouth like ills from Pandora’s box. My mother looked at me as though I were crazy or something and said in her understanding, gray-haired way: “Are you crazy or something?”
Classic denial. My mother had buried the Day of the Radish deep within some crevice of her mind, denying it, and she continued to do so for the rest of her days. Nevertheless, I have cleansed my conscience, and I can eat radishes once again.