One of my cousins posted as her Facebook status something about going out with her family yesterday to Steak n Shake, and “how much better can it be?” My visiting cousin agreed, saying that Steak n Shake was very important to his family. I surprised him by telling him that I, even though I grew up in St. Louis, had never been to a Steak n Shake.
He asked me how that was possible. I told him, simply, that growing up I hated hamburgers.
That led me, later, to think about this phenomenon. How was in possible to grow up in the ’50s without eating hamburgers. Everyone else I knew ate them…..all of the time.
Perhaps it started with my mother, who was, generally speaking, a good (if not particularly imaginative) cook. I hated her hamburgers (which she eventually stopped making). I hated them, I think, because they were so overcooked (really overcooked) and because she put cubes of onions in them (I also didn’t eat onions then). [To be fully truthful, I must say that she denied that she ever put cubes of onions in her hamburgers, but that I never accepted her denial.]
And then there was another thing. My mother thought that hamburgers were the enemy. Actually, any ground beef. She told me as early as I can remember that you could not trust any meat that you did not grind yourself, that you didn’t know how clean the grinder was, that people could put anything they wanted into ground beef, and that you could get horribly sick eating it. Now, I never understood any of this, because all of my friends ate ground beef, no one was ever told not to, and no one ever got sick. But my mother kept to her position for a long time, occasionally using a home grinder, until she began buying prime ground beef at Straub’s, but no other kind, and from nowhere else.
So, I didn’t eat hamburgers, although I had no problem with sausage, and to be truthful, I remember having meat loaf a couple of times and liking it (largely depending on the sauce) at the houses of friends or relatives.
At some point, at long last, I decided I should try to eat hamburgers. I don’t think that time occurred until I was out of school altogether and living in Washington, DC., and for a very brief period of time, I actually ate a lot of hamburgers, having especially fallen for rare, bacon-cheeseburgers, sometimes with mushrooms, always with ketchup, at Clyde’s in Georgetown. I can taste them now, although I am reaching back almost 40 years. My hamburger period, generally speaking, stretched from 1969 to 1971.
And that is because in 1971, I stopped eating red meat altogether (although I maintained both a Chinese restaurant exception and a Roy Rogers roast beef sandwich exception for another two years or so), and I didn’t start eating red meat again until the year 2000. So no more hamburgers.
When I decided that my diet should include anything I wanted to eat in 2000 (I sometimes wonder if that brought on the World Trade Towers attacks as a sign of divine displeasure), I sampled a wide variety of types of red meat. I would guess I had some form of red meat once or twice a week, at least. But, presumably for some vestigial reason or another, I never had a hamburger. That is, until November 2006, at the airport in Honolulu, when I had a hamburger with a pineapple slice on top of it. It was delicious.
OK, it is now December, 2008, and I don’t think I have had a hamburger since that day at the airport.
I can’t explain it. But I know I should try harder. Perhaps I will.
But not tonight.