My mother was hungry most of her life. She cooked daily for us, but rarely sat down to eat. Unable to stomach the food she'd prepared for the rest of us, she ate her own meals at odd hours, nourishing herself on a strange combination of the ordinary and the exotic. One day she might eat a baked bean sandwich smothered in ketchup; the next, broiled lobster.

Mother blamed her eating habits on a childhood of poverty. Born six years before the Great Depression, her earliest memories were of hunger. Her family was so poor they often went days without eating. When there was food, it was never enough. Sometimes all they had to share between them was a can of beans.

Mother looked hungry. As thin as a wraith much of her life, weighing an almost skeletal 90 pounds, her erratic diet eventually consumed her, shredding her bowels and leaving her emaciated. Unable to keep down food, she died in a hospital bed connected to tubes that provided nutrients for her weakened shell of a body.

My father, on the other hand, died of thirst. A large man with a hearty appetite, his experience was the polar opposite of my mother's. He was raised in comfort. The son of a medical doctor, he observed the poverty of the Great Depression from a distance, never worrying about his next meal.

He started drinking in his teens, I suspect. By the time he reached adulthood, he was a full-fledged alcoholic. He couldn't start the day without a shot of liquid napalm, which he purchased by the half gallon. Like my mother's strange hunger, his thirst for alcohol was the end of him. He spent the last days of his life waiting to have his dry lips moistened with a damp swab, unable to drink water because of his alcohol-ravaged kidneys.

Their experiences are not lost on me ...

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August 2007

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