Family Matters

by Laura
(Columbus, OH)

As the family reunion geared up into full swing, the voices around me faded into a buzzing in the hot summer sun like bumble bees on a field of daisies. I closed my eyes a moment and felt a very slight breeze on my hot face, giving me a brief moment of relief. On the breeze, the scent of the grill tickled my nostrils, signaling that the time to eat would come soon and my heart sank a little.
I swallowed as my nose picked out the old familiar scent of hamburgers and hot dogs over hot coals. I could almost hear the sizzle of the grease dripping onto the coals in the heavy scent that now swirled in eddying pools of smoke around my face. I took in a deep breath through my mouth and huffed it out through my nose in an attempt to dislodge the scent. As usual, it seemed to be lodged in place, just as were most things that set me apart.
I had become vegetarian ten years ago and still I was not comfortable talking anyone about it, especially my family. At family events, which were inevitably heavily loaded with meat, it became the subject of extensive discussion if I mentioned I couldn’t eat something. It was hard to make my Midwestern All-American family understand that salad with bacon added was not a vegetarian dish, nor was rice with ‘just a little bit of chicken stock’. I never minded not being able to eat the food; I always brought my own, but it always became the center of discussion nonetheless.
Today would be no different. The moment we were all around the buffet table I would be the subject of speculation and question.
“Aren’t you hungry, dear? You know you are just wasting away. You should eat something!” or
“Oh you’re one of those vegetarians? Well have the chicken or fish then!” or even from the uncles, who thought they were hilarious,
“That’s okay. We’ll just set up a clean spot and let you graze on the grass over there!”
I felt a hand on my arm and looked over to see Aunt Betty smiling at me. I smiled back and swallowed back my fears. “Food’s up, sweetie”, she said, giving my arm a pat. I nodded and forced myself to smile a little wider. It wasn’t her fault. I took a deep breath and stood, ready to face the firing squad once again.

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