Celery and Mousetraps by Velya Jancz-Urban

Tcelery on a white backgroundhe only food my husband won’t eat is celery. I think it’s because his mother, in the 1960s, made a dish called American Chop Suey. I think she made it many, many times. With six kids in the family, she had to be resourceful in the kitchen. American Chop Suey had absolutely no resemblance to Chinese food – it was more like a kissing cousin to goulash. I remember it appearing on the hot lunch menu at our elementary school, and in other parts of the country it may have been called Slumgullion or Johnny Marzetti. But in New England, it was American Chop Suey. From what I can piece together, on the rare occasions my husband will discuss it, his mother went heavy on the celery in order to stretch the hamburger meat in the recipe. Today, if I have a chicken salad sandwich for lunch, my husband’s celery radar is so fine-tuned that when he comes home from work and gives me a kiss he accuses, “So, you were eating celery again!” in the same incriminating tone a district attorney might use in a high-profile murder trial. If I buy deli potato salad, I’ll find a neat little pile of celery cubes on the side of his plate when we’re done with dinner. Since he’s a cooperative eater in all other regards, we never have celery, ‘the devil’s vegetable,’ in the house.

Currently, my husband’s on a special assignment for work and has been “commuting” to Georgia from Connecticut for the past six months.  Like a sneaky teenager who dips into the vodka when her parents aren’t home, I went a little wild at Stop & Shop and bought celery. Celery with a ton of feathery leaves! I open the fridge to that uniquely-celery aroma (good luck trying to describe it!) and ignore my husband’s ranting in my head, “It’s ninety percent water and tastes like WOOD! It tastes just like it smells! In kindergarten, I had to hear all that ‘ants on a log’ peanut butter raisin bullshit!”

And so I come to the entire point of this essay which is not about the evils of celery. It’s about the fact that you never really know what goes on in other people’s houses. The other night, as we were preparing dinner, I said enthusiastically to my twenty-two year old daughter, “Hey, since Daddy’s not here, how ‘bout if we live it up a little and put celery in the salad!” She looked at me with revulsion, as if I had suggested chopping up our puppy and adding him to the salad!

“Celery in SALAD?  Are you crazy?  Nobody puts celery in salad. You have to eat celery hot,” she insisted.

“Well, when I was little we always put celery in salad,” I argued.

“Yeah, but your family’s weird. Nobody in the entire world puts celery in salad,” she persisted.

“Let’s just see about that,” I countered.  “We’ll put it to a vote. Let’s post the question on Facebook and see what people say.”

The response was overwhelming and comments started popping up within minutes. They varied:

I can go either way. A lot of times I think it’s too overpowering.

No!!! Not in my household! I hate celery!!!! Toxic!

Yes! We always have!!

NO ONE likes celery. It’s only in the grocery store for decoration.

Yup, but I peel the strings off.

I like the passive-aggressive crunch!

Lima beans, okra, and celery should be banned from the planet!

Clearly, our scientific survey proved that there are a couple of people out there who do indeed put celery in salad.

“You know,” I admitted to my daughter. “I just assumed everyone put celery in salad because we always did when I was growing up. This reminds me of the mousetrap story.”

“Oh no, not the mousetrap story again,” my daughter groaned.

We live in the country. We have mice – but I never liked the idea of killing them. I always catch them in Havahart traps, take them for a drive, and let them go. But, if I were a mouse, I’d rather die instantly in one of  those old-fashioned wooden mousetraps with the metal bar that comes down fast and breaks the mouse’s neck, than eat creepy d-Con poison and die from internal bleeding, or have my feet stuck to a glue trap and starve to death. One day, several years ago, the mousetrap topic somehow came up in the faculty room during lunch. When I mentioned how disgusting, yet sad, it was as a little kid to have to take the dead mouse out of the trap, the people at the lunch table looked at me in horror.

“Are you serious?” the fourth-grade teacher had asked in disbelief. “You took the mouse out of the trap?”

“Well, yeah. How else do you get it out?”

I got a quick tutorial from my colleagues. I had no idea you were supposed to throw the traps away after you used them, with the dead mouse still imprisoned under the metal bar! I guess having Depression-era parents had something to do with it. My father always re-baited the mousetraps with peanut butter, so I assumed everyone else did.

Celery in salad, and mousetraps…it’s kinda like finding out the lyrics to a song you always sang wrong.

How about you?  Is there anything you thought was ‘normal’ as a child, only to discover that’s not how the rest of the world does it?

9 Comments

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9 responses to “Celery and Mousetraps by Velya Jancz-Urban

  1. My family always ate ice cream in soup bowls. I don’t think my dad had much ice cream as a Depression-era child and he wanted us to enjoy lots of it!

  2. Marianne, that’s how my husband serves ice cream, too. But then again, he serves huge portions of everything! We always call them “Jim Urban portions!” Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. Mmm.. I love celery with Cheez Whiz. Noms.

  4. My brother and I would sometimes bring comic books to the dinner table to read while we ate. Looking back on it now, I find it horrifying. Then again, it did keep the peace at the table, and the peace sorely needed keeping!

  5. Ah yes. And there’s that song or sons were sure was written for them: “I’m an alien, I’m a lethal alien; an Englishman in New York “

  6. Oh dear, I guess I’m weird too, because I use celery in all sorts of salads. Can’t comment on the mouse traps, though.

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