Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Germ Factory

I had planned my mom's visit to my house for my Chanukah party very carefully.  She'd been sick for a while, with the kind of cough that sprays you through the phone, so I thought, surely she'd understand a touch of germ paranoia now!  Especially in this season of the miserable H1N1, when everyone knows the danger of spreading germs.  Surely even my mother will be on board now with my requests not to pick at the food. 

She always makes fun of Husband and me for this exact issue.  Her version of science, pre-1940, indicates
that she only gets sick from cold not from germs.  Of course, she spent World War II living in the Polish forest without a coat, so maybe that's understandable.  But basically, if she can't see it, it doesn't exist.  Meanwhile, she's sick all the time.  My family - I blame Husband - goes with modern scientific theory: cover your mouth when sneezing, don't share germs on purpose.

My mother doesn't believe in any of this.  Loudly.  Her standard answer, perfected over the forty-nine years of my life to an ear-splitting shriek is, "You think you're so smart, Linda!  Well, I raised all seven of you and managed not to kill anyone!"

So she comes over for the Chanukah party and there are a lot of seating options.  She can sit at the long, long kitchen table, far away from the food serving area.  She can sit on one of the couches, also far, far away from the food serving area.  But no.  She sits on a bar stool, right on top of the food serving area, the better so that she can pick at the food. With her fingers.

In my larger family, the family with the seven sisters, for some reason hands are serving utencils.  There's some connection here with dieting that I haven't quite figured out yet, like if they pick, pick, pick at the food with their fingers - no plate - the calories don't count. Because if someone says, "Did you have a piece of cake?" The answer can legitimately be "No." No piece of cake was obtained.  The cake was just picked at until crumbs remained on the platter, but no legitimate slice of cake was placed on a plate and consumed, like a real human being.  So, no calories. 

In my family, platters of meat disappear this way, containers of potato salad are demolished, and, yes, cakes vanish into thin air.

So my mother sat there, sick, picking at all the food, glaring at me if I glared at her, refusing my offer of a plate or for me to make her a sandwich, seat her at the table, a choice chair perhaps - anywhere!  Then I noticed everyone at the party was picking except my little family of germophobes. 

And I thought, okay, obviously I'm the lunatic here.  What did it matter anyway?  Since we knew this was going to happen, husband and I, Bar Mitzvahzilla and Daughter made sure and isolated ourselves from those germs:  we ate before the party.


  1. I think one of those days, I might have went insane...shoved my whole face in a cake and came up with a chunk and said 'your right mom!...It's much better without a fork'.
    But that's me.

  2. I spent a month in Korea. Before I left I was freaked out about the communal eating. But when I got there, there was no avoiding it -- all the food goes in the middle of the table, and you pick at it with chopsticks, along with the twenty other strangers you're sharing dinner with. I had to give up. But lo and behold, I didn't get sick the entire month. So maybe I'm with your mother on this one.

  3. Honestly, Chris, we had more desserts at Chanukah than real food. We could have had one cake a piece. Then there'd be no forks and no sharing!

    And Melissa, interesting experience in Korea. My mom would send them fleeing the communal table.

  4. Ummm....gross. I think I would have opted to eat before dinner as well. Ah, but I was taught the art of germophobia from my mother. At my house? No food picking. Not even while cooking.

    I do love how you tell a story!

  5. Ahh, the age-old germ debate between the generations. My mother thinks Husband and I are crazy for our hygiene standards, but she might even be on our side in this particular argument.

    By the way, I got my mother-in-law's perfect latkes last night. Yum. And hopefully germ-free!