Jewish Mother

pho

I had some friends over for dinner a few evenings ago. I made pho, but 2/3 of my guests had never had pho before, so I made another soup to make sure no one went home hungry. (We would later have pound cake and four different flavors of Ben & Jerry’s for dessert.)

As I got up from the table to get more food for my friend Rob, he said, “You’re like a Jewish mother.”

I smiled, it was not the first time I’d been paid that compliment. I love to cook only because I love to feed people. Originally this blog was meant as a food blog, my first post on fawnnguyen.com was about our Thanksgiving dinner in 2011.

Cooking and eating — acts that would save me from my miserable childhood.

The shame of being poor was all too obvious. My own body betrayed me, how would you hide your bones from threadbare clothing, how would you tell your tummy to stop growling. How would you hide your hunger.

My parents worked very hard to make sure there was food on the table — make that the floor, we ate sitting cross-legged on the floor — but there was never enough food. I had feelings of resentment toward my parents for having so many damn kids that they couldn’t fully feed. Thank God my younger brother died at birth or else there’d be eight children to feed.

My childhood memories, if I were brave enough to revisit them, would revolve around being hungry and craving for this food and that food. I now wonder if my siblings have the same memories. If they don’t, then they are big fat hairy liars. Or they were the culprits of my childhood hunger as they ate all my food.

I remember the two young boys’ faces and bodies as if I just saw them yesterday. My childhood self observed their plump faces, their bodies filled out their school uniforms, their suspenders stretched taut against their bellies. They were not hungry, they were fat, they were happy, their grandma beamed with pride.

I wanted to be like them. Fat and full of food. They knew no shame because their bones were not showing, their bellies did not grumble while doing school work. Of course they went to bed full.

Then I came to America. My 6th grade classmates called me chicken legs. I ate and ate until no one called me chicken legs any more. This is my freezer right now, not because I like ice cream all that much, I have them just in case you come to visit.

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11 Comments

  1. Vincent
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Fawn for sharing… interesting childhood..

  2. Posted June 2, 2016 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    Oh, Fawn. Your posts are beautiful and funny and sad all at once. And I would love to share some ice cream with you, anytime.

  3. Posted June 2, 2016 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Another thought: your post is even more compelling to me because as a child I was shamed for being overweight – and by a Depression-era mother (who was acting out her own messed-up food issues). Because of this, food issues have stayed with me my entire life, and sadly, I’m sure I’ve passed them on to at least one of my children. Reading your piece reminds me that my problem was one of luxury compared to so many other children. So thanks again. – W

  4. Kathy D
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    I love your writing. I helps me get to know you better. The more I know you the more I love you.

  5. Posted June 2, 2016 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful. And if I lived anywhere close even though I don’t know you other than your blog, I would knock on your door for some ice cream! :-)

  6. Posted June 2, 2016 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    I just want to come visit!

  7. Josh
    Posted June 2, 2016 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    Thank you.

  8. K
    Posted June 3, 2016 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    My parents were displaced refugees after the second world war, they and my oldest brother (who was born during that time) suffered from real hunger like your family — my childhood memories are of an over abundance of food and a refrigerator that resembled yours. I carried that food over drive for a long time also — you brought back many memories of my parent’s and their stories…. thank-you

  9. Jeff Linder
    Posted June 3, 2016 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    I will be right over.

  10. Posted June 6, 2016 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing and writing and being real and true and authentic and smart and funny. And Inspiring.

  11. Kara
    Posted July 6, 2016 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    My story is not the same as yours, as I grew up in Kansas. But I (and my husband) also grew up poor and hungry – and as an adult, I also refuse to let anyone leave hungry. Even when money was extremely tight, we’d find a way to have the biggest Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners possible. It is always more than we (and our extended families) could eat. In those early days of little income, we would often live on left overs for the next month, as we had no more grocery money – but no one ever left hungry. I am thankful I don’t have to worry about that so much anymore, and I do what I can to help other people too. Thanks for sharing.

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