That’s what my Bubby (Grandma) Sonia called me, and I was. In fact, “stubbrin” was – and possibly still is – one of my most endearing characteristics. Which does not speak flatteringly of the list.
I talked recently about food. And summer is “Camp Season.” So today, it’s –
“Summer Camp Food.”
You see how that works?
It is probably untrue – though that has never stopped me from repeating it – that I had two sets of clothing at camp – one set for July, and the other for August, when the July clothing did not fit anymore because I’d lost twenty pounds during the previous month.
The Guaranteed ‘Miracle Diet’: Four weeks of Camp Ogama cuisine.
At least from my skewed perspective. Which is the only perspective I have.
I refused to eat anything. The milk smelled sour. The hot cereal was lumpy. Cut the gristle and fat off of the veal chops and what was left were three morsels of meat… and then bone.
I did not eat eggs. (Runny and yellow.) I did not eat salmon. (It has black spots in it.) Cottage cheese would be acceptable… it weren’t for the “chives.” Why did they think that was a good idea?
“Cottage cheese needs added pizzazz. Let’s chop in some onions!”
I’ve got a better idea.
Leave it alone!
I survived almost entirely on peanut butter and Wonder Bread. Though by the first week of August, I was holding my pants up with my hand. (Playing badminton, it was “Serve. Hike up my pants. Return volley. Repeat.”)
Here’s the thing about “Picky Eaters.” Subsection: “Picky Eaters At Camp.”
The camp controlled everything. When you woke up. The obligatory “Lights out.” When you had “Swim Instruction”, although the water was freezing. (And if you complained, they’d pick you up by your bathing suit and propel you directly into the lake. Trust me. I was a regular propel-ee.) They controlled when you wrote home. (And, not infrequently, what you wrote.) And when you’d have to see the camp doctor, lower your trousers, and cough.
Camp maintained rigorous control over every element of our (actually their) scheduled itinerary.
But they could not control your literal intake of food. They could control what was available. But they could not force you to ingest it.
Although Lord knows they tried.
Case in Point:
Most foods fool you by not looking like what they are. Not liver. (Or kidneys. Or tongue.)
Liver is shiny, like an actual liver. Palatable Exception: Chopped liver, which they “schmaltz (chicken fat) up” and puree to a farethewell. Normally, however, you can actually see what liver wasbefore being forcibly extricated from its owner.
“Hey! I needthat!”
Nobody listens to a cow.
They served liver twice per summer. Though an atypical culinary selection, campers were encouraged to try it.
But some of us were “stubbrin.”
Here’s exactly how“stubbrin.”
COUNSELOR: “You are not leaving the table till you take one bite of that liver.”
Three hours later, the only ones left in the Mess Hall – me and my counselor – locked in the same configuration since dinner – my counselor, hovering above me, me, adamantly refusing to relent.
(Just writing that, I felt the encouraging impulse of, “You go, boy!”)
The unshakable impasse proceeds.
COUNSELOR: “Come on. One bite, and it’s back to the cabin.”
You could detect my counselor’s cumulating anxiety. His “controlling authority” was on the line. His superiors were monitoring his behavior. Also, possibly a girlfriend, judging his “manly assertiveness” by the ultimate results.
GIRLFRIEND: “You made him eat liver. I’m yours!”
I refused to give in. They could control when I ate candy – Tuesdays and Thursdays, when I could buy a “Burnt Almond” chocolate bar from “Tuck” – but no way they could ever make me eat “Organ Meat.”
Finally, there came the (somewhat imaginative) “Nuclear Option.”
COUNSELOR: “If you do not eat that liver, you are sleeping in the rafters tonight.”
(I do not recall if he “buttoned” the punishing consequence with “Mister!”, but it felt threateningly “Mister-y” even if he didn’t.)
My immediate response to his ominous ultimatum was,
And it was not“Okay, I’ll eat the liver.”
Finally, they could turn off the lights in the Mess Hall, the three of us departing back to the cabin – me, my frustrated counselor, and a plate of cold and glutinous liver. Along with cutlery, a glass of Freshie(Canadian Kool-Aid) and possibly a napkin.
The word spread quickly after our arrival:
Tonight, a fellow cabin-mate would be sleeping in the rafters.
(Rafters are perpendicularing overhead crossbeams, I guess holding the cabin’s roof up, but also storing the suspended metal trunks the campers’ clothing was shipped in.
Still refusing to comply, I was instructed to climb onto an upper bunk, and then ascend to the nearest trunk, to which my pillow and blanket were then hoisted to me. I “made my bed” on the trunk, a cheerful “‘Night-night”, and it was then off to beddie-bye.
My distraught counselor appeared noticeably agitated. Although I’ddone the climbing, it was hewho was precariously out on a limb. A negative outcome – of the “Kerplop!” variety – would bode poorly for his resume.
“What was he doing up in the rafters?”
“It was a punishment for not eating his liver.”
“We’ll let you know about that job offer.”
Me? I was having a ball. I had resisted all inducements to “knuckle under.” I’d become the coveted center of peer-group attention. And I held the winning, strategic “upper hand”, knowing my counselor would finally tell me to come down.
Which he did. Although not right away, his continuing failure heightening the shame of his total capitulation.
Which, not surprisingly, did not bother me a bit.
You may brand my behavior “stubbrin.” I found it as consistent with the values my camp taught me.
Over the years, we had put on numerous pageants involving fearless “resisters” fighting totalitarian oppression.
The message was meant as a stirring, political “Call to Justice.”
All I did was simply apply that to liver.