Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Something about my mother that puzzles me...

Since finding out that my mother has cancer, and the disease is at most something that we can try and postpone, I've been thinking about her in ways that I haven't thought about her in many years. 

Looking back at life, many of the little things that I had tucked away about her have been pulled out of the resources of my mind at odd moments as I try to savor as much about her while she is still with us.  Like when she decided that my sandwich's would be cut on the diagonal instead of at right angles to the crust, or when she decided that when we moved from Shaker Heights to Marion that we would drive our own U-Haul truck.  We've talked about some of these moments and she's surprised us by looking back and smiling.  "Boy, we had some fun adventures, haven't we," she'll say and that is our cue to change the subject.  Mom is not an emotional person, so she sets limits on conversations and we respect them.

One of those things that I thought of that have always been a mystery, was her love of Circus Peanuts.

Growing up as the only child of an marriage between two older parents in the 1960s was uncommon at the time.  So many of my friends had parent who had been children during World War II, not the 1920s and 1930s.  While I had two older brothers from my father's first marriage, I am my mother's only child.  And, given the polarizing dynamics that resulted in some horrific fights between them, growing up it was "us", against "them".  So I spent a lot of time with her, whether it was going to spend Christmas with my grandparents, or hiding in her bedroom while she and my father got into some very physical fights.

But in those alone times, in the car, on a trip, she would bring along a bag of circus peanuts, which is the culinary equivalent of a platypus.

There are many things about circus peanuts that are a mystery, but one thing is for certain, most people hate them.  Why are they called "peanuts" but they are not made of peanuts?  Why do they taste of banana, and not peanuts.  Why are they orange and not peanut colored?  And most of all, why do some people continue to buy these things.

For me, the greatest sin about these "candies" are their texture, which on a good day are soft and chewy, but dry and tough at the same time.  As a child I tried to like them seeing that they were a constant in the house, yet I could never past all the stuff that made them nasty.  In my opinion, eat one circus peanut and  one should never feel guilty about refusing a second.

But she ate them, though never with great abandon.  And she never complained about them, even when they were at their worst.

So one day when their was a lull in our conversation, I asked her, why she ate Circus Peanuts, and her answer was simple.  "Growing up we didn't have a lot of money for things, so you ate what was given to you, or what you earned.  Your grandfather liked circus peanuts, so when there was money for candy, this is what was around."

As a candy omnivore, the idea that these nasty things that are not what they represent represent a treat is a foreign concept.  And even though they were always around in my childhood, they never made the leap to my preferred menu.

So I asked her, if I bought her some, would she try one and her answer was no.  "They're all sugar and they'll rot my teeth out.  But if you would like them, go buy some."  She made a face, her signal that we had reached the end of the conversation about circus peanuts.  For her, the peanuts weren't a source of great memories, just memories and habit. So we toke our cue and ended the conversation.

Just then I wondered when was the last time she thought of circus peanuts.  With the end of life for her like a distant light in a dark tunnel, I wondered if she would have thought about them again before she died, or if she had buried the thought too deep in her mind to make it to the forefront of thoughts that she is dealing with.

I can talk about Circus Peanuts with my mother, or the weather or what's on TV.  What we can't talk about are the more personal things like why she stayed with my father, or what she thinks of death.   I guess when you've been hurt badly by the things life has thrown your way, you deal with them by becoming what you need to be to get through it.   Such is our relationship at this pivotal moment in her life - its a bit like a circus peanut.  It isn't what it should be, it just is what it is.


  1. Oh my goodness...how stupid of me to tear up at the thought of Circus Peanuts. But I am a bit, maybe since my own mother has some bizarre mysterious love for them too. I don't get it. Never will, but I think about her every time I see them.

  2. life is funny...and sad. and then there's those god-damned peanuts!

  3. I have a penchant for the jellied orange slices candy. Never cared for the peanuts though. If you eat one and drink cola then you get a mouth full of foam. I equate the peanuts with the same charm as candy corn.

  4. This is lovely. You've made something beautiful out of your sadness and memories.