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Childhood reflections with a touch of grace: Taste bud trauma

Early on in life, I discovered that I had a sensitive palette. For instance, in my world, milk was meant only for the cereal bowl and only in a specific quantity, so that the cereal didn't become soggy. Milk was only fit for drinking if it was extremely cold and surrounded by a dozen Oreos.

Not to milk the subject, but there were other potential hazards associated with drinking milk, like expiration dates. These dates were scientifically calculated down to the last potential seconds of freshness for a carton of milk. Plus, as milk ages just a bit, it can emit some strange aromas that can be psychologically damaging for young children.

My dad was ancient, so he found nothing unusual with odors or expiration dates. He would often bellow, "It's fine for a week past the date on the carton," as he skimmed the clabber off the top of his glass. I always suspected that he even saved that for a snack, later on. It helped me, when considering my father's taste buds, to remember that he was reared in the clay foothills of Georgia, where sulfur water was considered a delicacy.

Sulfur water is definitely straight from the pits of hell. It smells like a cross between rotten eggs and a toilet recently visited by someone who just discovered they were lactose intolerant. My dad would gulp that stuff down like it came from the fountain of youth. Then, he would gawk at me in disbelief because I preferred a fountain drink, preferably a vanilla coke, light on the ice and with a dash of lemon.

Between the antique milk and the sulfur water, I had no choice but to develop a more refined set of taste buds in order to protect my sanity. If my dad's contributions weren't enough to drive me crazy, then there was the food in my middle school cafeteria that was sure to traumatize me for life.

Lunch seemed more like punishment to me, most days. We stood in these incredibly long lines and tried to match the uncertain aroma we were enduring with the culinary surprise that awaited us. Unfortunately, the task got no easier at the front of the line, where a group of grandmotherly women wearing hair nets served up ladles full of unrecognizable slop that hit our plates with the same sound that my uncle‘s cows made when they were dropping organic fertilizer in the pasture.

There was one bright spot in the school's putrid menu that showed up about twice a month. We're talking chocolate cake, with a thick layer of slightly crunchy icing over a velvety smooth and buttery yellow cake. I have been known to trade my meat, vegetables and an occasional lung or kidney to get extra pieces of chocolate cake from my friends who lacked my superior taste buds.

It should come as no surprise that a person in my predicament would stop at nothing to improve an otherwise dismal dining experience. One day, while daydreaming that I was at a Kentucky Fried Chicken, with a drumstick in one hand and a fluffy buttermilk biscuit, dripping with honey in the other, it occurred to me that I must take matters into my own hands if I was ever to satisfy my longing for food that had something resembling flavor.

With a budget of 35 cents per meal, which was the price of school lunches, my choices were limited. This did not sway me from concocting the perfect plan. After my mother dutifully handed me my money, for which I expressed my eternal gratitude, I made my way to school. There was a slight detour involved in my route to school that took me to Walker's Store, just two blocks from home. There, with unimaginable glee, I purchased a bag of potato chips and a honey bun with enough glazed sugar to keep me in a coma until the last bell rang. It also helped me to drink the school's disgusting milk, which was never cold enough and it often had that almost out of date smell around the lip of the carton. My dad would have loved it.

I continued this exploit for about a week, until my brother feigned concern for my well being and told my mother about the dangers of my current eating habits. She was less than pleased with my delicious menu. The brief and minor punishment I received paled in comparison to having to return to chicken cacciatore (which was more like "caccia-gory" to me) and those cold, mushy english peas with no seasoning. However, my fate was sealed, so it was back in the lunch line for me.

My love for food got me in trouble more than a few times. I once stole a bag of Fritos from my "girlfriend" in the third grade and enjoyed every last forbidden bite, until I got home and my parents wanted to know where I got my delightful snack. I couldn't think of anything but the truth, so I outed myself on the spot. This resulted in the purchase of a much larger bag of Fritos with my own money and returning it to my friend, with what was almost a sincere apology. She didn't seem to mind. She liked me so much she used to pick me up and spin me in circles on a regular basis. I suspect she may have changed her name as an adult and could very well be known now as Rhonda Rousey.

No matter what, the point is that crime or dishonesty of any kind never works out well in the end. Just take your medicine, eat the stale english peas and drink the week old milk, if you must. Do what it takes to protect your integrity and be sure to keep your word to folks. This may not always be pleasant or convenient, but you will sleep well at night and everyone you know will trust you. The Bible says it best in the words of Solomon, who said that a good name is preferred to riches.

That's a good thing, because many of us never make it to the riches, but we can all choose a good name free of charge and the benefits could make you eternally wealthy.

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