By Andrea Goatley— ENGL-4315—April 30, 2007
I was enjoying a rather typical visit with my grandparents last winter with the rest of my family when I inadvertently offended my grandparents during dinner. We had been passing some of my grandma’s specialties: green bean casserole, pot roast with potatoes and carrots, hominy and with cheese and of course about three different types of pie, pumpkin, pecan, and lemon meringue. We all gorged ourselves, and I took all the food I was offered until I could not eat anymore out of fear of gastric damage. However, there was still food left on my plate when I announced that I was finished eating for the night, and possibly for the next day as well. This caused my normally good natured grandfather to narrow his eyes, and declare “You haven’t finished your food.” I replied that I was full, and had taken too much, to which the reply was a stern “You need to clean your plate.” His expecting me to eat all of the food set in front of me despite telling everyone else at the table that I was full was my culture bump. When it occurred, I briefly tried arguing my point before attempting to finish the food before me. This was my behavior during the bump.
I realize my behavior, well as my grandpa’s, was affected by our relationship and the context of the incident. I was the eldest granddaughter of his only son, born and raised roughly fifty years later than him in a major city in a different state, with a mother of Filipino descent. My grandpa on the contrary was an elderly Caucasian man from Kansas who grew up on a farm and spent the bulk of his childhood enduring the Great Depression. While we knew each other well, the distance between our homes kept us from getting very close. The incident took place in private, among other family members, a place that despite the relative distance in our relationship, we still felt comfortable enough to criticize or defend our behaviors. The context for this incident was how a young girl of twenty would react to her seventy-five year old grandfather scolding her about finishing her food at the dinner table. After some thought, the real question became how do people of different age groups express gratitude at the end of a meal.
I remember feeling shocked when my grandpa made his comment, which quickly turned into offense and embarrassment at his insistence that I finish my food. These feelings emerged from my expectation of being able to stop eating when I said I was full. Growing up as a child, my parents only forced me to clean my plate when I refused to eat what was set in front of me. However, if I had eaten a good deal of what I was served and decided halfway through my seconds that I was done, I was never reprimanded. The fact that my grandpa, while in a position of respect was not as close to me as my own parents, would in my mind chastise me over something I saw as trivial made me upset. I expected my grandpa to simply let me stop eating when I wanted, and mirror the relative understanding I felt I got from my parents about this type of situation. When this expectation was not met, I felt attacked and that my grandpa was being overly critical of my eating habits and that he saw me as wasteful. I stopped to think that if my grandma had been the one to make the comments would I have taken such offense, and I believe I would have.
After dinner, my sister, who is two years younger, and I had a conversation about the incident later in the room we were staying in. We both felt that our grandpa was being excessively strict for no reason, and that he just might be getting cranky in his old age because my grandma, who is from the same area and of the same age, did not give me any sort of grief that night.
It was not until the next day during dinner when my grandpa brought up the incident when we sat down again, that I truly understood his motivations behind it all. During the course of the meal, he retold the tales of living in Kansas during The Great Depression and having to do things like live off a fifty lbs. bag of turnips for a month with the rest of his family. As a result of living in such hard times, he was engrained with a “Take what you’ll eat, and eat all you take,” mentality. Wasting food was just something he could not bear to do, or see anyone else do. While it seemed severe to me, in his mind, my grandpa was simply trying to teach me to never take what I had for granted. I saw his behavior as an attack, while he viewed it as correction that would in turn, help my character later on.
Analyzing my behavior and expectations of the culture bump between my grandpa and I, made me realize that age and culture of the time greatly affect one’s perspective on even the smallest things like the completion of a meal. What was a trivial matter to me, who thanks to living in a time of economic prosperity with parents and circumstances in which I was always well provided for and well-fed, turned out to be something that someone my grandpa’s age saw as more of a privilege that younger generations have been lucky to have in modern times. I realized that I had a cultural blind spot when dealing with elderly people that had lived through situations of dire poverty such as The Great Depression.