Friday, March 16, 2012


For as long as I can remember, I’ve liked nuts. The hankering likely comes from my dad’s side of the family. During football season back in the 1960s, he’d enjoy a Pabst or two and salted peanuts. At Christmastime we’d take a sledgehammer to walnuts, revealing fruit only an adult would like.

In fourth grade almost every day after school, I’d come home and make a not-so-chocolaty chocolate malt. I’d use a fork to break up the vanilla ice cream, the kind Mom would buy in a five-quart bucket—oh boy!—and add just the right amount of whole milk and malt powder to ensure it didn’t get too soupy. After I had ground the ice cream to a perfect texture and swirled the thick, caramel-colored delight the right number of times (OCD was my normal), I’d top it with salted or dry roasted peanuts. Oh my gosh! Definitely worth the effort.

We’d often travel to a food warehouse in St. Cloud, Minnesota, a couple hours from Montevideo, to stock up on supplies we either couldn’t buy in Monte or didn’t want to pay too much for. Mom would always buy me a huge box of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, chocolate and peanut flavors in one scrumptious bite. Life couldn’t get much better at that time. Honest. I’d store them in my bed’s headboard, a sliding-door cubby, and each day I would allow myself one peanut butter cup. That’s discipline, because each package held two. But the decision was mine, even at eight or nine years old. I owned those treasures. I have always been the type to save the best till last, and I wanted the best to last.

My freshman year of college meant freedom, even though I lived in a dorm and ate at “Hillslop,” our nickname for the cafeteria at the top of the hill in dormland. Freedom for me meant eating what I wanted and in quantities I wanted—not needed, which is a whole ’nother concept. That was in the autumn of 1977.

I never really thought about body weight. Back then it simply wasn’t a big issue. Models were models. Fat people were fat people. And some friends thought I was anorexic. I hung out with everyone, and they hung out with me. We didn’t give weight much weight.

But one morning when I prepped for class, I couldn’t zip my stretchy pants, yes, stretchy pants with a button on top, not that the button mattered at that point since it was two inches away from the buttonhole.

By late spring 1978 I needed a new wardrobe. As I packed my belongings to head from Eau Claire to Wausau for the summer, I thought, How did I grow so? Then, in a sort of dreamlike disaster, I pictured it. After each day’s smörgåsbord, I’d waddle to the ice cream area. A few flavors and every topping you can imagine held up their hands saying, “Eat me! Eat me!”

But I’m not always a softie. I’d pretend I didn’t hear them and walk on by. Then, so they couldn’t see me, I’d dip my hand into the cold freezer and draw out a crisp chocolate-covered ice cream bar. Yum! But something was missing on those babies, something that only my friend, the peanut, could rectify. I’d wobble backward a bit to the five-gallon bucket of smooth peanut butter and slather it all over my ice cream bar—front, back, and sides.


And so my pants wouldn’t button.

I must’ve puffed up like a soufflé those first two semesters, because three months later when school started again, a couple of the girls who lived with me on the fifth floor of Towers didn’t recognize me. They’d grown accustomed to watching the evolution of the Two-Ton Tillie I’d inadvertently become. But over the summer, I’d accidentally fallen back into Twiggie mode. Thank God, ’cause I didn’t really want to buy a new wardrobe.

My nut addiction didn’t wane during my sophomore year, either. I felt grown up that year and raised my standards by buying cans of Planters Mixed Nuts, the good stuff with no peanuts. In two nights, I could magically make the entire 20,000-calorie can of cashews, Brazil nuts, almonds, macadamias, hazelnuts, and pecans disappear. Fortunately, with consistent bike riding to and from work (four hilly miles away, and I had a car), I didn’t regain Tillie status.

In 1980 I entered my fourth and final year of college. Three young women and I rented a large home three miles from UW–Eau Claire and very close to where two of us worked, the Eau Claire School District’s Board of Education building. On decent-weather days I’d bike the distance and, again, develop quite an appetite. To reward myself for biking and not using my car, I’d head over to Randall’s grocery and buy a super-large container of Skippy crunchy peanut butter. Now I know some think Jif is better, but I’m a Skippy girl, and those who know me would agree that I can be a little skippy at times.

Fearing my skippiness could become pudginess without some budgetary constraint, I would hide the jar of peanut butter from myself under my bed so I couldn’t find it—except at 7:30 every evening. I’d ensure no one was in sight, open the silverware drawer ever so quietly, lift a tablespoon out of its section, then wiggle into my bedroom and gently close the door.

On my belly next to my bed, I’d be thinking how great God was to give me long arms. With my hand wrapped around the wide jar, I drew it closer to my big, blue eyes. Eager and salivating like a dog, I’d unscrew the cover, set it aside, and dip my waiting spoon into the crunch. I was always amazed at how much that spoon could carry, but it somehow was strong enough to reach my lips, where I'd nibble and nibble till it was almost gone. Then, as Mom used to let me do, I’d lick the spoon.
What is it about foods we crave? What comprises its lusciousness that keeps us coming back for more? Hmm, let's see. Between my Kroger crunchy peanut butter and two-and-a-half-pound container of Kirkland mixed nuts, the common denominator is…fat.

Hey, what a way to go.


  1. Your math skills are below that of the average 7th grader...first you said Two-Ton Tillie was T3, but then you went on to call it T-cubed, which is wrong. Tx3 is not the same as T^3.
    T+T+T is not equal to TxTxT. Write when you learn maths.

  2. Always a kind word. Changes made.


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