Ice Cream Cone
Girdle, a Woman’s Best Friend
Own True Voice
The Sabbath Meal
was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household. During the week my
brother and sister and I ate dinner at 5 o’clock. My mother sipped
on a martini during our dinner. She and my father ate dinner alone
later, with the kids banned from the dining room.
two main Sabbath meals were dinner on Friday evening and lunch
on Saturday after synagogue. We ate together as a family. We were
all dressed up in our Sabbath clothes, clean and pressed. The
table was always covered with a heavily starched white tablecloth.
We were a "perfect" family sitting around a beautiful
table. My mother always prided herself on our beauty and cleanliness.
Shoes were polished. Hair was combed to perfection.
and blessings always accompanied these meals. The meals were filled
with religious rituals. We had permanent seats at the table. We
were never to sit in my father’s seat at the head of the table.
His seat was holy and was never even to be touched. My mother
sat at the other side of the rectangular glass table designed
to seat six. I sat next to my father on one side of him. My older
brother sat on the other side.
younger twins, a boy and a girl, sat on either side of my mother.
The Sabbath meals usually lasted about two hours. It began with
Kiddush, the blessing over the sacred wine, followed by the ritual
of hand washing, and followed by more prayers and blessings. The
meal started out with challah, the traditional braided Sabbath
bread. At the center of the table were the sacred candlesticks.
They were handed down from my grandmother to my mother. They would
be handed down to me in the future, as the oldest daughter.
each of the courses, we sang traditional hymns praising G-d and
the sanctity of the Sabbath. No one was ever allowed to leave
the table until the meals were over and the final blessings chanted.
And none of us children ever dared to leave the table. The only
one who left was my mother. After the main course, my mother always
left the table. The meal was incomplete. Dessert had not been
served yet, and we were required to sit silently until my mother
returned to the table to serve the final course.
my parents’ bathroom was down the hall, the noises that came from
there were so loud, that it was impossible not to hear my mother
retching. We silently remained in our assigned seats gazing at
my mother’s empty chair. No one ever spoke. We sat listening to
the sounds of my mother throwing up her food. We were told that
she had a very sensitive stomach and that "aggravation"
precipitated these bouts of vomiting. I remember feeling very
was not very well behaved. I had what was called a "big mouth"
and was always being fresh and talking back to my mother. I felt
sure that I was the main cause of my mother’s "sensitive
stomach." A few minutes after the excruciating retching noises
died down, my mother would return to her seat. She then gave out
dessert, which was usually a small portion of red Jello (Kojel—kosher
gelatin), with a piece of a canned peach artfully placed inside
the Jello. We would silently eat this final course. My mother
just sat in her chair gazing at us. She didn’t complete the meal
with us. My father would say to her, "Aren’t you having any?"
And she’d say, "No. I’ve already had my dessert."
never knew that my mother was bulimic until two weeks before her
death from cancer at age 69. I walked into her sickroom to find
her making herself vomit. "What are you doing, Mom??? What
the hell are you doing?" I cried in horror. She said, "It
doesn’t matter anymore. It just doesn’t matter anymore."
mother died two weeks after she told me about her lifelong eating
disorder and struggles with her weight and her body and her incessant
desire to be "thin and beautiful." I wasn’t present
at the moment of her death, but I was told that at the end she
vomited profusely and then died.
four of us children got something that was hers after her death.
I got the candlesticks and the bulimia.
Leah, 50 •