I'm the only one on the planet apparently who doesn't like pancakes. I don't like waffles and I can't stand syrup, but mostly, I really, really, really don't like pancakes.
The rest of the world, however, views them as comfort food, symbolic of home, love, Mom. Idyllic family around the breakfast table kind of symbolic. Somehow pancakes are something like the Norman Rockwell nostalgia food. I don't get it.
When I was a kid, my mom would try every possible way to make pancakes appetizing to me. Maple syrup? Nope. Berry flavored? (Straw-, blue-, rasp-....whatever.) Gag. Plain butter? Mush sticking to the roof of my mouth. Thin, thick, covered in whipped cream or powdered sugar, spread with peanut butter and rolled up? Even covered with chocolate syrup? There may have been melodramatics involved in my reactions to any and all of these offerings, but the response was always the same at its core: no amount of disguise could mask the unmistakable taste and texture of the awful pancake.
You might not know it to read about my adamant response to pancakes, but in virtually all other ways in my young life I was a people-pleaser. I wanted to make people happy and have them smile at me. (Really, I wasn't a brat. I was a good kid who tried almost any food my mom set down in front of me, at least once. That was our rule.)
When I was eleven years old, my mom hit a crossroads in her life. For her safety and well-being, she decided she needed to get herself and her kids out of our home and onto a new life. We were without home and without most of our belongings, and the youth pastor at our church opened his door to us on that first night while mom tried to figure out what her next step should be. I knew, as did all of my siblings, that we were to be respectful and thankful guests in his home, since Mom felt guilty about imposing herself and all five of her kids on someone else. That's a lot of baggage. We were quiet, probably a little frightened and stunned by the turn of events that led us to their doorstep to begin with, and having left our home--for good, it would turn out--late in the night, we were exhausted. Not much talking that first night. That would come later.
We slept in our clothes and woke up the next morning all huddled together in blanket pallets on the floor. After all, not many people have an extra five or six beds at their disposal, so we slept together in the living room, Mom on the couch and the rest of us on the floor. We awoke foggy and not quite remembering where we were, whether or not the events of last night had been a terrible dream. Our youth pastor's wife, knowing everything we had gone through the previous evening, did what many folks do in those kinds of situations--she cooked comfort for us. Breakfast was already being served up on sunshiny yellow plates at the kitchen counter as we stumbled out of the living room rubbing the sleep from our eyes.
Hopping up onto the high kitchen stools, she set a plate in front of each of us--three huge, fluffy pancakes each, laden with butter and dripping with gooey, sticky maple syrup. Sher--the youth pastor's wife--had kind eyes and was wearing an-everything-is-going-to-be-alright smile, one that was meant to be reassuring to us. "Your mama's still asleep; let's let her get some rest while you eat breakfast." She noticed me picking at mine and mistook my lack of interest for depression or sadness. "Honey, please eat up. Everything is going to be okay, I promise." And she looked at me with such earnestness, such a desire to make us all feel okay again, that I couldn't let her down. I felt guilty. Ungrateful. And so I ate. And she smiled.
I choked down every bite of those three over-sized pancakes. I'm not sure how I did it, honestly. But I was proud of myself for being the good guest, allowing our host to feel good about making us feel better, and I turned to my older brother to ask about whether or not we'd be going to school that day. After all, our world had pretty much turned upside down. Did normal rules apply still? I turned back to finish off my orange juice just as Sher was coming back with a spatula stacked with three more pancakes. "Here, Sweetie. I knew you must have been hungry! You ate those so quickly, I thought you might want seconds." I tried to decline, but she insisted, thinking I was just being shy. Just then Mom came into the kitchen, also still in her clothes from the night before, bruised face and swollen lip still evident from her struggle the night before, the cause of us leaving behind everything we knew.
"Donna, what are you eating? You don't like pancakes!"
I saw Sher looking a bit crestfallen. "No, no, Mom. It's okay! I like them now!" Sher went to take back the three new pancakes back.
"You don't have to eat them if you don't want to. You should have told me! I would have made you something else, poor thing!"
I felt bad. I didn't want her to think I didn't appreciate her feeding us all, taking care of us. "No really! I want them. I'm still really hungry. May I have them, please?" Ignoring the look from my mother, I watched Sher load up my plate with more butter and syrup, and then I dug in. And I ate every last bite of pancakes number four, five, and six.
Immediately after I finished, I excused myself and promptly went to the bathroom to throw up. Thirty-five years ago, and I haven't eaten a pancake since.
That incident didn't cause my intense dislike for pancakes, but I'm pretty sure it sealed the deal.