Besides having a look that could bring a grown man to tears and facial expressions that showed exact feelings, Bruce and I shared the traits of rolling our eyes and sighing with deep exasperation. The trait that all three siblings had in common, however, was having finicky eating habits. Bruce was more set in his ways than truly finicky, David was close to impossible, and I was the most flexible but still discriminating. Neither one of my brothers would eat fish. David has been won over with shrimp—his limit; Bruce, not so much. He called me during one dinnertime to say, “Lynnie, listen to me. I don’t like fish.”
“Okay, honey. Who can I talk to?” Handing over the phone to either Stephen or Ms. Lee, I heard him in the background, “See, talk to my sister.” These were some of the funniest conversations about Bruce’s eating habits and how I managed to get him to eat fish at my house. Inevitably they would make him something else. I always made the same suggestion, “Chop up the fish and mix it with macaroni and cheese.”
How did I manage to get Brucie to eat fish? Elementary. My dear Watson, pure manipulation. Four years of upper-level psychology classes had to offer some strategies. Big Bruce, Jerica, Randy, and I love fish. My children learned to read the nutritional facts on the back label of food products at a young age while grocery shopping, even taking responsibility for finding items on the shopping list to keep them occupied. My mother had done the same, hoping that learning about healthy eating would convince David and me to eat our fish, liver, and vegetables. We did learn to read those facts—high sodium was bad, vitamins A and C were good, and that was it. In our home, good for you usually meant bad tasting. In later years, I realized my distastes for liver, fish, and most vegetables were because of how they had been cooked.
Fortunately, my children liked vegetables. Randy was so easy, loving almost any food, and Jerica was impossible about anything else. She had grown to have an eclectic taste in food, surpassing even her father and brother. So, on holidays like Rosh Hashanah. when I experimented with stuffed flounder or baked salmon with orange and pineapple sauce, and Passover, for which I would make horseradish crusted tilapia (using homemade seasoned cake meal instead of breadcrumbs), I would also make either a pot roast, brisket, rib roast, or some chicken for Jerica and my brothers. As Brucie always helped me in the kitchen, I would tell him about the fish first, waiting for his face to crumble. “That was an ugly face, and this fish is NOT for you,” I would emphasize. He would shrug it off, “Okay.” However, sitting with the family and our guests and watching the fish platter continuously pass him by was another story. He would sneak over to Big Bruce and point to the fish platter not saying a word in fear of me hearing him. Instinctively, he knew after that ugly face that hell would freeze over before I would give him any of that fish. His brother-in-law was the safer bet.
To the day of his death, I had only raised my voice to my brother once. Yet, he was committed to never doing anything that might cause me grief. I think my first greyhound, Bazooka, is the only other being who has loved me like that. I read a quote once that said losing someone you love is hard, but losing someone who unconditionally loves you is devastating. I must concur. All these years and two dogs later, I still miss that dog.
So Big Bruce would ask, “Bruce, would you like some?” Bruce’s response with his forefinger and thumb pressed together, “Just a little bit” would become one of the family’s favorite Bruceisms repeated by us, our children, and now our grandchildren with a fond smile or giggles. Of course, Brucie loved the fish, returning to his group home that night bragging how he had fish and it was “so good,” another Bruceism. Despite this, he made us repeat the ritual each time fish was served. Of course, the house knew Bruce liked fish—but it was my fish, not theirs.
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