There were two things my father enjoyed more than anything else, and the two were mostly interchangeable with regard to importance. He liked food and he liked people, and I have to say he amassed a very eclectic collection of both.
That’s not to say that there weren’t representatives of either that he disliked, but those examples were pretty isolated; and he could overcome that when absolutely necessary. He wasn’t a fan of pumpkin pie, for instance, but he once ate three pieces simply because he didn’t want to offend the lady who (unaware of his dislike) served it to him. And like everything else, he turned it into a story to tell everyone who cared to listen.
So, as I was drinking coffee on the porch early one morning with the cats, the raccoons and the possums, it occurred to me that my semi-domesticated wildlife was a lot like one of my fathers personal favorites in the food category. My father enjoyed bacon of all sorts and flavors, but what he really enjoyed was going to the grocery store and getting a big box of bacon that was labeled (quite accurately) “Ends and Pieces.” He would laugh and say that it was like Christmas because you never knew what you were going to get.
Normally, bacon is sold in packages with strips that are around 50/50 meat versus fat, and these strips are a uniform size and thickness throughout. But in the “Ends and Pieces” box you would encounter slabs of fat and chunks of meat, with the only uniformity being that it was all in the same box — frequently jammed tight into a rectangle made up from the pieces shaved off of the aforementioned “normal” bacon. But he enjoyed it and defended his purchase by pointing out that it was perfect to fry or for use in seasoning everything from soup to green beans and yielded a generous amount of grease for use in other dishes. And, honestly, he wasn’t wrong. It wasn’t pretty, but it was delicious.
Given that most of us don’t live our lives based upon the dietary restrictions of Jack Spratt or his wife, the analogy works. Certainly, we prefer our bacon (lives) in neat and measured increments that are convenient to consume, but life (and bacon) doesn’t always accommodate us. No, regardless of how much we attempt to order things to our desires, there will always be chunks that don’t fry up neatly in the pan. But that is perfectly all right, when you think about it. How many stories begin and end with “everything went as planned?” And how many people would stop to listen to the stories that did? Not many because people always prefer flavor, after all, both in life and in food.
Life is what it is, and sometimes it seems to be seasoned by a cook with shaking hands and no taste buds and comes out raw or burned. It does give us certain things in even and convenient measure — but it is just as likely to overwhelm us with slabs and chunks that seem to be someone else’s afterthought. Still, it is life, in all its messy and glorious possibilities. And every bite of it has some use, even if only to teach us to eat something else next time. So, fry, bake, broil and boil it until something good comes out. And remember to share the dish with others because, even with their culinary limitations, when they worked together Jack and his wife cleaned their plates.
Life doesn’t have to be perfect, which is a good thing because it seldom is. Fortunately, the only requirement is that we live it. And sometimes thinking outside the box isn’t what we need. Sometimes (usually) it is what’s in the box that really matters. But inside or out, stripped or in chunks, it is ours. And sorting through it can yield so many possibilities, if we simply take the time.