One of the more delightful elements of human nature is the always-surprising and often revealing insights we get from people who help us see those components of our lives we find mundane and trivial as exotic and interesting. In my experience, foodstuffs provide the most common examples. Take for instance the reaction of my friend Aileen, who is from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, to carrot salad, a food I’ve always known and more often that not ignored.
Aileen is tall and slender, with thick, beautiful mahogany hair that cascades in waves down to the middle of her back. Even more striking, she is one of the few people I’ve ever known with green eyes, true green with the barest flecks of brown. For all that, she is not the sort of woman most people would describe as beautiful, since she has the sort of face the English deem “horsey” and is embarrassingly awkward, simply devoid of grace walking or sitting, somehow even managing to look uncomfortable lying down. Yet she is kind and gentle. Her husband is a short, blond fellow, handsome in a bunny-rabbitty short of way with the hairiest forearms you’ve ever seen in your life. He plays an accordion player in the oom-pah band at Gluckstadt. They moved here four years ago, which is about the time she first saw carrot salad, at a church social.
“It really stood out,” she said. “I mean, if you think about it, how often do you see things that are orange on a table in the first place? Or raisins? I had to take a couple of spoonfuls and went up to one of the older ladies there, showed her my plate and said how much I liked the slaw. I thought it was slaw; it had grated carrots and mayo, and I thought the raisins were really an original touch. Well, she looked at me like I was from Mars!”
“Aileen,” I said, “do you remember the time you called hushpuppies cornbread fritters?”
She looked at me with those emerald eyes and smiled.