We were not vegetable eaters. Corn was our main vegetable and until her dying day Mom refused to believe it was a grain. Corn was a vegetable and there was no other thing it could be. Occasionally, she’d break out a can of peas with cubed carrots and pour it into a saucepan on the stove. There is no worse flavor than an over-boiled cubed carrot. But for the most part, it was corn.
Sometimes, on very hot summer days, Mom would make a salad for dinner because we all thought that eating lettuce would cool us off. We would go out to the backyard where Mom had put a vinyl tablecloth and plastic forks on the picnic table. All fancy. We sat on the benches, the four of us kids, dad standing at the end with a cigarette in his lips, as Mom carried the salad and put it in the middle of the table. Pale lettuce and tomatoes, rheumy cucumber and impossibly white radish slices skinned in bright red. No corn on those nights because we were already having vegetables. You didn’t want to overdo it with vegetables.
Dad would whack us into place as we settled in with our salads and our hotdogs and potato chips. The fresh vegetables scrubbed at our teeth and the insides of our cheeks as we swung our legs, munching away, none of us with feet that reached the ground. Nobody talked. We could hear distant traffic and not so distant traffic, neighbor voices, a dog barking, an airplane, the hot breeze in the leaves, all dulled by the thick muggy air.
Later, when Mom was clearing the dishes and Dad had stopped yelling at us, we would watch the bats and the fireflies come alive as we slapped at mosquitoes, our mouths scoured as clean as freshly hosed vats, pinching and shoving each other under a velvet sky. Then I would run down to the very back of the yard and climb into the hammock and wait for Mom to yell me in for bed.