The other day I was talking with a mom about trying to get her kids to eat different foods. I guess it’s a thing these days with some kids. They won’t eat certain foods. When I was growing up, we had to eat what was put in front of us. Well, most of the time. Once we got big enough, our parents would go into the dining room and have their dinner, and we kids would eat in the kitchen. Once, I think they gave us something like lima beans… I don’t really remember what it was, but one of my brothers put all of them in his mouth, kind of like a chipmunk. My parents knew something was up because we were too quiet. I think my dad came over or maybe my mom, and we got in trouble. I don’t remember what the trouble was, but we didn’t ever do that with lima beans again! They were trying to teach us how to take care of each other, and table manners, too. Thank God they did!
One time I went to a classmate’s house on the South Side. I was in the seminary at the time. He was a Polish kid, and his house had a lot of clutter in it. I was amazed to see every table, every chair, every piece of furniture with something piled on it. My house wasn’t like that. I sat waiting for my buddy and looked into the kitchen. There was something on the kitchen table. I couldn’t guess what it was… it looked like maybe a grey football or something. I kept studying it, trying to guess what it might be. Then I figured it out. It was a giant tongue. Oh my God, I thought, they eat giant tongues. Yuck!
We got back to the seminary and I went to visit my buddy. Phil, I asked him, was that a giant tongue on your kitchen table? Yes, he said, It’s delicious. Want to try some? Sure, I said, and smiled. It was a forced smile. He sliced some and made a sandwich. I was a little nervous biting it, that’s for sure. It was delicious!
Years later I was living with a Mexican family trying to learn Spanish. That was a great experience. I learned so many things about the culture that you could never learn in school. One of them was that they eat cow stomach. That’s right, cow stomach. Once, they had some cousins come from Mexico, and one of the girls was really pretty. I wanted to impress her, so I ate a bunch of tacos with lots of hot salsa. And we had plenty of beer, too. I didn’t know that if it goes in hot, it comes out the same way, but I found out! The next day I remember feeling a little sickly. The family said we had to go to St. Francis on Roosevelt for Mass, so off we went. After Mass, we went down to the parish hall for some menudo. Cow stomach soup. It has a really slimy texture… but what the heck, if they can eat it, I can too, I thought. It turns out it’s great for a hangover. They knew what I needed!
Another time, I went to a Mexican family’s house around Christmas time. I got into the kitchen, and there was a giant head on the kitchen table. Oh my God, I thought, what kind of animal was that? I asked them what it was. It’s a cow head. Oh no, they eat cow head, I thought. They asked me if I wanted a taco. Sure, I said, smiling. I was a little nervous, but how could I say no? It was delicious! That same family also offered me some chicken feet once. They were pickled… not so good, but I tried them!
I remember our parents telling us that we had to have good manners. They told us that suppose we went to someone’s house for dinner. Suppose that family was poor, and they wanted to give you something really special… and they only had one chicken. Suppose they kill and cook the chicken, and then bring it over for you to eat, smiling. You better eat the chicken!
Manners, it’s about how other people feel. It affects everything from trying to be respectful in speech to what we eat. I think parents have a hard time raising kids today. Maybe they always did! But there’s a lot to be said for teaching kids manners. Of course, there’s always the question of real boundaries, too. Nobody wants their children to be hurt by someone’s cruelty, either. Thoughts for another day… but manners are important. Words like “please, thank you, excuse me, how are you feeling” really make a difference. Maybe a little scripture quote to finish… “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.” Lk 10, 5-7 Pretty clearly, Jesus didn’t want his disciples to be picky eaters!