Blueberries and Pork Chops by
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(74 Stories)

Prompted By Embarrassment

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To me, the essence of a truly embarrassing moment is that the mere recollection of it, even years later, causes one to cringe.  I have one of those. So much so that I can truthfully say that this is the first time I have ever disclosed it to anyone else (parents, spouses and sibling included).  Hopefully, this cathartic admission will bring me some closure on it.  If so, thank you, Retro friends, for being my support group.

OK [deep breath], here goes. We had close friends up the road from us in our small Connecticut town of Bethany, the Eisenmans.  They lived in a beautiful old farmhouse, complete with barn, carriage house, horses and chickens.  Mr. Eisenman was a very well known graphic artist and taught at Yale and did graphic design work for the Yale Press. Mrs. Eisenman was an artist and jewelry maker. Their two older kids (boy and girl) were friends of my brother and mine and equally creative.  Their daughter Suzy was a few years older than us and at some point she decided that the neighborhood kids should start a summer newspaper, so we did.  We voted to call the newspaper the “Bethany Blueberry,” not just for its alliterative appeal, but because, as noted at the top of each copy, it “Comes Out in Bethany in Blueberry Season.”  We used the Eisenman’s carriage house as the Blueberry’s office and Mr. Eisenman was able to purchase from Yale for virtually nothing a used mimeograph machine and stencils as well as  a printing roller, metal type and ink so that we could print “Blueberry” in thick blue letters at the top of each issue:

 

The Blueberry ran for about five summers until the older kids went off to boarding school or otherwise lost interest. There was a great article about it in the New Haven Register in 1958 entitled “Youngsters’ Paper Keeps Bethany Neighbors in Stitches,” complete with pictures of us.  I have been able only to find a shard of the article in my files (that is my brother’s crew cut head at the right of the partial photo; I was further right in it):

 

If pandemic isolation lasts long enough, I will try to track down the full article in the Register’s archives.

Anyhow, the Blueberry itself was hardly my cause of embarrassment; indeed, it fueled my life-long love of journalism. However, one late afternoon I came over to the Blueberry office by myself to work on my article. The Eisenman kids weren’t around — they may have been off briefly at summer camp — but their parents nicely invited me to stay for dinner. I called my parents and they were fine with that.

So far, so good.  But, for dinner, the Eisenmans served pork chops.  For whatever reason — it sure wasn’t any dietary laws — we never had pork chops at home and so, in kid-like fashion, I was convinced I wouldn’t like them.  (For all I know, I had read some article on trichinosis and was convinced I would get it.)  So I managed to cut and chew my pork chop but then discreetly (I thought) deposit the chewed up pieces into my paper napkin.  Still, so far, pretty good.  But at some point, I lost grip on the napkin and all the semi-chewed pieces dropped on the floor.  I was mortified, but could never find a moment to tactfully crawl on the floor and pick them all up.  So that is where they stayed for the rest of the meal.  And, despite my mortification, I was unable to come up with an Alternate Plan B to pick them up and/or explain the whole awful situation.  Embarrassing, no?

I biked home after dinner.  No one had said anything to me and I didn’t even know if my mess had been noticed yet.  Because the Eisenmans had a dog (a yappy beagle), I had faint hopes that he would find it before they did and happily remove the evidence.  But I never knew. And — this being the nature of embarrassment — I never dared to mention my egregious faux pas to my parents.

The next time I saw the Eisenmans, which was probably just a few days later, I was terrified that they would say something to me and I considered whether I should pre-empt them with an apology.  But they never did and I never did.  And life went on as it always had.

Except.  Except, even as I grew to eat and enjoy pork chops — and never suffer from trichonosis — I almost invariably thought of what I had done with the Eisenmans’ pork chop and was quietly filled with dread and shame. Embarrassment?  Oh yes, yes, yes.

About seven years ago I saw Mr. Eisenman’s obituary in the Times. Three years later, I saw Mrs. Eisenman’s (Hope) obituary.

Both lovely tributes to wonderful, talented people.  But, as I read them, I couldn’t help but ask myself: Did they ever find my chewed-up pork chop?  Did they ever tell anyone?  Will I ever stop being embarrassed?

Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin


Characterizations: funny

Comments

  1. Great story, John!
    Mike Wallace

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    John, I really thought this would end with the dog under the table, finishing your half-chewed dinner. Kids are funny in their likes and dislikes and (hopefully) grow out of them as they grow up and explore the wider world. Since nothing was ever said, you have no way to know the outcome of your food droppings, if your lovely neighbors discovered them, or what they thought about it. By your account, they remained warm and welcoming, so this episode seems to be have been swept under the proverbial rug and all was forgiven. Your secret is safe with us.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Betsy, and great metaphor (or is it simile?) about sweeping under the rug. Of course, I saw their dog plenty and I so wished I could ask him if he ever ate my pork chop. And, if he did, I would have forgiven him for his damn yapping, which could be heard all over the neighborhood.

  3. Funny memory John!
    My husband was on a biz trip to China many years ago and was taken out to dinner by his Chinese counterparts.
    The featured dish on the menu was called Three Squeaks – three LIVE mice – and Danny was encouraged to try it.

    Altho he didn’t want to insult his host, and he’s usually adventurous about trying new foods, Danny just couldn’t bring himself to do it, could you?!?

  4. As a member of your support group, I hear you, John. Cringeworthy, yes…but it’s time to forgive yourself. I give you permission to give yourself permission. Not that there’s anything to forgive, and you’re not likely to forget. At least it made for yet another great story…thanks!

  5. Marian says:

    Great story, John, and I’m confident that if the beagle didn’t find the pork chops and the Eisenmans did, they have long forgiven you, so maybe you can rest easier with that closure. Interesting that your family didn’t eat pork chops. Although my family didn’t keep kosher, my mother was raised in an observant household and never cooked pork at home. I, too, heard the trichinosis stories, so I was a young adult before I learned to appreciate pork chops!

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Marian. Forgiven or forgotten. As a number of this week’s stories have shown, often it is only the embarrasser who reminds it, not the embarrassee. As to pork chops, at some point my mother came across a loin of pork recipe that sounded good and eventually it became part of her repertoire. Of course, she never knew of my previous, er, “history” with the meat.

  6. Suzy says:

    Well, in my childhood, the de rigueur procedure for dinner invitations was to find out what the inviter was serving, then call home to find out what your family was having, and pick the one you liked best. So I would have turned down the Eisenmans’ invitation unless my mother was making something even worse than pork chops. (I couldn’t stand pork chops then, and I still can’t.) It seems weird to me that you were okay with chewing the pork, just didn’t want to swallow it. You would still get the yucky taste just by chewing it.

    I bet the beagle did destroy the evidence. My hunch is that if the Eisenmans had discovered the bits, they would have said something to your mother, and at some later point – maybe after you were an adult – she would have laughed about it with you. Too bad there is no one left to ask, unless you want to check with your brother as to whether he ever heard the story.

    • John Shutkin says:

      In fact, my parents told me that I always used to ask what was being served before I accepted a dinner invitation — which they considered bad form. But I don’t remember doing that either generally or, pretty obviously, in this situation.

      And I checked with my brother yesterday.And he never heard the story. But I think I now need to check on-line for the Beagle’s obituary.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    What a great experience, John, to create that newspaper when you were young. I would have loved doing the same thing at that age. I hope you do track down that article.

    I can totally relate to how humiliated you felt about that chewed up pork chop landing on the floor, and how you had no idea how to salvage the situation. So sorry this has haunted you for all of these years, but such is the nature of the embarrassments of our youth./

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Laurie. So far, no luck. Look like the New Haven paper’s archives only go back to about 1961. I had hoped my brother had a copy, but no dice.

      And yes, you are so right about the embarrassments of youth. Though there are still plenty of embarrassments in store in later life too.

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