By Christine Stark
Crisco was delicious. My mom always had a huge blue can on hand. The first few years I ate it, beginning when I was seven, I had to get up on a chair to pull it down off the second shelf. The can had greasy marks on the outside, which made it slippery on top of being big and round without handles. My hands didn’t fit around it and I had to be careful not to drop it onto the counter below, potentially scarring the counter with the metal edge of the can and splattering Crisco across the kitchen like an errant shotgun blast where inevitably some would lodge under the refrigerator or in the nook of a cupboard. I worried I wouldn’t see to clean it, and my mother would find on a later date and inquire why there was Crisco splatter.
Once I got the Crisco down off the shelf and moved the chair back to its rightful place at the dining room table I pried open the clear lid, set it on the counter and peeked into the gigantic can. There were chunks of white grease along the edges from when Mom scraped off the extra Crisco that clung to the spoon or spatula along the inside edge of the can. The can was a surreal, all-white, Dr. Seuss world. Sharp divots in that milky concoction told of a spoon scoop or a knife stab or a spatula swab. There were globs of the white goo in strange shapes created from a swift slap on the edge of the can that sent the lard flying back into the tub. This replaced lard landed in strange contortions that reminded me of miniature mountains or a landscape after a snow—soft white mounds of snow covered bushes and forgotten toys and a tip of a shovel that rose up the blanket of snow in surreal formations.
After surveying the tub’s landscape and noticing the interesting shapes, I pulled out a large metal tablespoon from the silverware drawer and dipped it in the soft material, making my own mark on that landscape. Then I brought the spoon to my lips for an initial taste. Taste? There was none. But I still would have described it as delicious when I was a girl, because it was a sensory experience. It was the texture–the creamy feel of the wanna be lard against my tongue and gums and lips calmed me. It was safe. It made my whole body feel soothed. My mind felt as if it was being petted, cared for, loved. All this happened while my mother was away. In secret. I, of course, knew that my mother would not approve of my eating Crisco. I knew it was wrong, in her opinion. But I also knew that I liked Crisco.
The Crisco was delicious by itself. But it needed more to make it zing. I took two steps to the right, reached in to the dish drainer, and slipped out a bowl. Returning to the Crisco with the bowl, I slapped spoonfuls of Crisco into the bowl, making my own white contortions against the beige bowl. Reaching to the back of the counter, I slid the brown stained ceramic sugar canister roughly the same size and shape as the Crisco tub toward me, reached in with a second clean metal spoon, dished up the granules (careful not to spill any, leaving evidence on the countertop) and spread them over the Crisco. Now I had a glistening snowscape. Next, I pulled open the cupboard above my head, stretched to the first shelf until my fingertips found the vanilla extract, grasped it with the pads of my fingers, and brought it down to the counter. There I unscrewed the little red lid, also greasy and with brown stains from spilled vanilla, set it aside, and dumped ten or so drops into the bowl.
Now, it was nearly complete. All I had to do was return the Crisco, canister, and vanilla to their rightful places in the kitchen, wipe up the counter, rinse off the sugar spoon, replace the sugar spoon in the dish drained, and then mash the concoction until all the sugar and dark brown vanilla extract dissolved into the Crisco, smashing the pure white landscape into brown stained slush. Then I carried the bowl up the stairs to the TV room to watch Scooby Doo and Eight is Enough and The Brady Bunch, plunked down on the floor, eating a bowl of mashed up Crisco and sugar and vanilla extract, soothing to taste, feel, and look at.
The Crisco concoction was the first time I sought out food as a drug. I never ate it because I was hungry. I ate it because the sugary creamy lard blanked out my mind, caressed it the way I wanted a mother to caress me, tamped down my anxiety and depression. I ate it because the concoction covered my frayed nerves like snow over the jutting lip of a shovel.
Christine Stark is an award-winning writer and visual artist. Her novel, Nickels: A Tale of Dissociation, was a 2011 Lambda Literary Finalist. Her site is www.christinestark.com.