ValueSpeak

A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker

 

ALL'S FAIR IN LOVE, WAR AND CANDIED YAMS

You want truth? I'll give you truth: the truth is, I don't know if I like candied yams or not. I've never tried them. Not even once.

Nearly every Thanksgiving for 44 years, someone very dear to me - first Mom, then Anita - has offered to serve me a yam or two. And every year I have politely declined.

OK, sometimes not-so-politely.

Each time, I've given the same excuse: "I really don't care for them." Well, OK - that isn't really true, either. "I really don't care for them" never held much water with Mom, who seemed to think that me eating everything on my plate would somehow fill the stomachs of the starving children in China, Africa and South America, and provide retroactive relief to those who suffered from hunger during the Great Depression. So I usually ended up with a dollop of yams on my Thanksgiving plate. I became pretty adept at mashing them up and spreading them around the plate, a technique that usually convinced Mom that I had at least tried a bite or two.

But I hadn't. Not even once.

And I'm not exactly sure why. I liked all the stuff that Mom put into her candied yams - brown sugar, pineapple chunks, apple pieces and marshmallow topping. They looked good. They smelled good. Dad said they tasted good.

My guess is they were good.

But something about them bothered me. It was like they were, you know, trying too hard. I mean, you didn't have to lace the turkey with brown sugar, did you? You didn't have to put pineapple chunks and apple pieces in the mashed potatoes. You didn't have to top the stuffing with marshmallows. You ate them as they were, because they were good as they were. No fuss. No frills. I just didn't trust a food that seemed so reliant upon trickery and deception. Give me good, honest food. Sensible food. Sincere food. If it can't stand on its own merits, full of character, integrity and, yes, truth, I'm not interested in eating it. Which is why I mashed, spread and avoided Mom's yams through childhood, adolescence, puberty and young manhood.

And no, it didn't seem at all incongruous to me that I was practicing deception in order to avoid eating a food I was accusing of being deceptive. The way I saw it, deception begets deception, and all's fair in love, war and candied yams.

I probably should have asked Anita about the sincerity of her yams before I married her, but the question never came up. We spent our first Thanksgiving together at her parents' home, where candied yams are also a traditional part of the feast. It was several years before we had Thanksgiving dinner at our place, so it shouldn't have surprised me when she brought out the yams.

"But we never have candied yams," I whined.

"Sure we do," she said. "We have them every Thanksgiving."

"Yes, and have you noticed that I never eat them?"

"Uh-huh," she said. "To tell you the truth, I don't like them very much, either."

"Then why did you make them?" I asked.

"Because it's Thanksgiving," she said, "and we always have yams for Thanksgiving."

And so we'll have a bowl of candied yams on our table this Thanksgiving even though it's likely that none will be eaten. They are part of our heritage, and part of our Thanksgiving tradition. And as silly as it sounds, somehow it wouldn't be the same without them.

And that's the truth.

--- © Joseph Walker

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