I went to a Catholic elementary school run by strict Belgian nuns, and we could not leave the cafeteria until we ate everything served on our food tray. Once a week, they served warmed, canned spinach with our meal.
The spinach tasted nothing like the way my grandmother made it, but I ate it. I gulped it down in three or four bites and it amazed my table mates. I told them we ate it at home so I was used to the taste.
Now, my real problem began the day I ate the spinach off my friends’ trays so we could go play outside. As soon as the nun monitoring the cafeteria turned her back, my friends ate something off my tray I didn’t want, and I ate their serving of spinach. I only did it for two of my table mates, but the word spread.
On the next Spinach Day, kids followed me to my table. I was suddenly very popular, and as soon as the nun marched off to the other end of the cafeteria, my friends and an army of others who only knew me as The Girl Who Eats Spinach, begged me to take their serving. The food on my tray disappeared and I ended up with a mound of spinach. I had no choice but to eat it if I wanted to leave the cafeteria, but when others attempted to give me more, I snapped at them.
The following Spinach Day, my tray became the spinach dumping ground. No one asked if they could do it; they just dumped their spinach onto my tray, covering all the other food in a green mound of warmed-over yuck. I snapped. I flung spinach at all the trays around me. I yelled so loud that it alerted the nun monitoring the cafeteria that day.
Sister Mary Godzilla swooshed over in her robes, took one look at my tray, and realized what had happened. She called the cafeteria ladies over and made sure that everyone around me who did not have a serving of spinach on their tray got a fresh, new, generous serving. Some groaned their innocence, insisting they had already eaten their spinach, but she didn’t care. She stood over them and watched as they ate their spinach. As for me, she asked if I wanted a clean tray of food, and when I said no, she smiled at me and let me leave the cafeteria.
I went from The Girl Who Eats Spinach to The Snitch Who Got Us into Trouble, but I didn’t care. I never offered to eat anyone’s spinach again, and no one dared to ask, obviously thinking I might snap at any slight provocation.
One Spinach Day not long after, I turned in my empty tray to the custodian and he nodded toward a little boy about eight years old sitting at a table by himself. Sister Mary Godzilla had just walked away from him, and he was crying. The custodian and I made eye contact, and I gave him a nod. Keeping an eye on Sister Mary Godzilla, I nonchalantly walked over, picked up the kid’s fork and ate the glob of spinach on his tray in two bites, then walked away into the sunset, like the good guys in westerns. (cue: cowboy music)
Yes, I have a gift. I am one of the few who can eat canned spinach, but I choose with whom I share this gift.