Buttermilk



I don’t remember when or where this occurred or who was in the room, except for my mother. My sparse recollection of the incident suggests my mind wants to block it from recall forever.

We had been invited to someone's home for dinner, probably to one of my great aunts'. By that age, I had been taught to be polite, which meant accepting gifts graciously and saying thank you often.

Our hosts had directed us to the dinner table. I was very thirsty. Oh, and from the age of I think zero to 25-years-old I was always hungry no matter how much food I was given.

Before me were place settings, each complete with a plate and napkin, silverware, and a tall glass of cool, refreshing milk. There they were: liquidy cylindrical columns with just enough clear glass above the white to wedge between my lips. Before I sat down, or more precisely, before I was told where to sit, I reached for the closest glass and poured into my mouth a volume of the white fluid large enough to fill my cheeks.

But it wasn’t milk.

I didn’t know whether to spit it out or swallow it. Was it rancid? Would I get sick? I swirled my tongue around enough to discover the substance was thick, oily, and globby.

That's when I realized everyone in the room was laughing hysterically. Some of them had sat down and were holding their stomachs as they rocked forward and backward. This didn’t help me to know what I was supposed to do. I’ve heard it said that my face changed between numerous, un-classifiable contorted expressions. My memory blanks out right there. My mother told me later it was buttermilk (I had no knowledge at the time of the existence of the substance), and that I was supposed to have seated at another setting where there was regular milk. This is one of those experiences that is a blast for the parents but agonizing for the child. I’m not sure what the moral of this story is, except that raising children is at least as hard for the parents as it is the kids. It’s good for the parents to win one once in a while.

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