Or how I learned to love vegetables and exercise
When I was young, I would to try to disguise my vegetables on the dinner plate, smashing cauliflower into little pieces to mix with the mashed potatoes. I would line my peas up under the shadow of a knife that I strategically had placed across my plate to give my peas someplace to hide.
For some reason, potatoes were not in the same category as green vegetables and when I asked for a second serving of the butter and milk laden potatoes my father would frown and tell me I ate like a truckdriver. He was always pointing out my chubby stomach and frowning. I stuffed chocolate chip cookies down whenever I had a chance to quiet the shame.
But the vegetables were my nemesis and I never chowed them down. One day I gagged trying to swallow a piece of broccoli and refused to eat any more. My father told me that I couldn’t leave the table until I had cleaned my plate. For an hour I sat there as my mother cleared all the dishes except mine. Outside the sun set and the skies darkened. I could hear the ticking of the huge grandfather clock behind me. I wasn’t giving in.
Finally, my mother had pity on me and must have spoken to my father. I was allowed to leave the table and go straight to bed. The broccoli went into the garbage can, I believe.
My father was right. I was pudgy and if it wasn’t for the daily round trip of a mile and a half, I don’t know what exercise I would have gotten.
Even in first grade I was absorbed with reading and learning. I hated gym classes. I hated how I got red in the face doing calisthenics while the other girls looked so cute in their little blue gym uniforms, doing somersaults and splits with seemingly no effort at all.
The worst day of the school year was always Field Day. It came late in the year, in June, when the hot and steamy weather enveloped the Connecticut River valley. I could handle a relay race because it required little skill but, boy, did it make me sweat.
Red-faced, my stomach poking out over my shorts, I was embarrassed to compete. I always knocked over the first hurdle and fell out of the race. On the same parallel bars where others did handstands and fancy dismounts, I struggled to hold on, my legs aimlessly swinging until my sweaty palms lost their grip and I slid off, humiliated. The standing long jump was a mystery to me. How were you supposed to jump any distance when you started at a standstill without the benefit of a running start?
All around me, the other children were having a great time at Field Day. They loved being outside under the sun instead of in a stuffy classroom, free to laugh and show off their athletic prowess. I longed to be back inside.
Maybe it was the result of momentous shift in culture of the 1960s, when old norms were turned on their heads and what used to be important mattered no more, but in 1974, I decided that eating meat was bad for the world and I gave it up. Of course, that left me with little option but to increase my intake of bread, pasta, and, yes, vegetables. Over time they became the main focus of my diet and remain that way today.
Exercise took a little longer for me to embrace. I started in 1978. A friend and I started jogging a few blocks in Manhattan and I found I liked the endorphins that streamed through the body after a brief run. By then I had nearly a quarter of a century of inertia to battle, but I grew to like moving for the energy it gave me all day.
Over the decades I have experimented with all kinds of exercise: Jazzercise, step aerobics, yoga, walking, biking, swimming and hiking. While I still don’t think of myself as very athletic, I make a solid effort to do something to benefit my long-term health.
Now at age 64, you can find me at the local Y, lifting weights and running on the treadmill, if only for short intervals. I see plenty of other grey-haired men and women using the gym equipment and I feel at last that I fit in. We share a common notion that is backed up by science, if you keep moving and develop a regular fitness routine, you’re chances of living longer go up. It’s simple and I embrace the joy of movement, along with my heaping plate of vegetables.