22. It Never Occurred to Me

by H. W. Moss

Seriously, until a girlfriend said I put the roll of toilet paper on the wrong way, I had no idea there was a right or a wrong way to hang a roll of toilet paper.

Apparently there are right and wrong ways to tuck in your shirt, tie your shoes, part your hair and brush your teeth. That last one I can understand because my dentist has been telling me I’ve been doing it wrong for years. And if the source is familial, as in that’s the way your parents or siblings taught you, no amount of logic will sway you nor are you going to be able to change your habits overnight even when corrected.

My brother said that his brother, who is also my brother, taught him (my brother) to remove his (my brother’s) hat when he entered a room. I don’t know if this was an etiquette rule my brother made up or what, but my other brother says now he can’t enter a room with a bunch of guys wearing baseball caps and not get irritated. Must really rile him if they’re wearing them backwards.

When I pour a soft drink from a two liter plastic bottle, I crumple the container to squeeze out the air and seal it tightly before I put it back in the fridge. I don’t know if this prevents carbonation from expiring early or not, but I do know this incensed another of my girlfriends so much, she fumed silently for months until one day she opened the refrigerator door and it just must have reached the boiling point because she went on a rant that lasted twenty minutes saying I was letting all the carbonation out by doing that and she very nearly kicked me out.

I complained about this behavior to Dan, and he agreed with her.

“Don’t do that,” he said. “It lets the carbonation out!”

My neighbor sometimes deep fries with oil in a gigantic iron frying pan that is almost deep enough to be called a Dutch Oven although it has no lid. I don’t know precisely what type of oil she uses, but I don’t think it’s the trans-fatty food from hydrogenated oil typically found in fried foods, commercially baked goods, processed food and margarine because that stuff hardens.

This stuff doesn’t harden. It gets thick, but doesn’t turn solid.

However, I know she cooks with about four inches of the stuff because afterwards she puts the frying pan out on her back porch where it remains for, oh, perhaps a couple months. I asked her one day why she was trying to make rancid grease and she said she was not. She was simply leaving it out to harden. Then she could scoop it into a container and throw it away.

“Why not just pour it in its liquid state into a container and throw it away?”

“No. This is how my mother used to do it. I want to do it the way my mother taught me.”

Even when I was a kid it never occurred to me to do things my parents did without questioning what it was they were doing. Years later, my friend Joe told the story of a woman whose husband watched her cook a roast. First the wife cut the end off, then she put the meat in the oven and baked it at 350 degrees. It came out fine, but over dinner the husband asked why she cut the end off before cooking.

“That’s the way my mother taught me.”

“But why did your mother teach you that? You threw away a perfectly good piece of meat.”

“I don’t know.”

So the husband says, “Let’s call her and ask.”

Mom heard the story and said, “That’s the way my mother taught me to cook a roast. Cut off the end and throw it away.”

When asked why, she replied she did not know why.

Now the husband suggested they call grandma and ask. He got the older woman on the phone, explained what he had witnessed and that her daughter, his wife’s mother, said she was taught to cook a roast that way by you, her mother. Since she was the source, he asked why she cut the end off the roast and threw it away.

“Because the pan was too small and we lived in a hot climate without refrigerators in those days. We didn’t have a dog and the meat would have spoiled, so we threw it away.”

(2004)