Holiday Cheer

If I had not been a juvenile diabetic, perhaps I could have grown into a person who enjoyed food. A happy gourmet cook who made her own pastas, threw large and wonderful parties, and moved around her kitchen with ease and laughter. Perhaps—but I can’t say that I have ever really enjoyed food.

Correction. I enjoyed food as a child—before I became a diabetic. Of course, my diet consisted of foods not considered healthy by today’s standards. (I am from very Southern Illinois, where fried food and pie once reigned.) The enjoyment of food to me was all wrapped up with a warm family feeling, a feeling of security. I enjoyed my grandmother’s kitchen—her fried chicken and biscuits, her new red potatoes with green beans simmered in bacon grease, and her most wonderful homemade pies. From scratch, the woman baked apple pie, custard pie, peach cobbler, and my personal favorite, cherry. My father became the cook on holidays as he basted turkey, or in summer, ribs with his special barbecue sauce. There was also my own mother’s roast beef and carrots, beef stew, and her chocolate cakes. Don’t forget the Christmas fudge! Chocolate was an immediate loss that tortured me.

I had birthday cakes, but I also usually had a party in which I took one bite, and then gave the other pieces away to family and friends. I’d simply learned that this was unselfish behavior, and I think I was just glad to still have parties. I could eat a bit of ice cream then too, its fatty content going into the bloodstream in a slower manner than a sugar rush. (No, people did not worry about sugar making children “high” back then.) At teen parties, I did indulge in salted stacks and chips, of course. In younger days, I was famed for saying potato chips were my favorite food. Certainly not carb smart.

Oddly enough though, the holidays were not all that bad for me. My good mother always made sure there were sugar-free pies available. Yes, she had to make them. No such products would have been found in the grocery stores of yesteryear. In fact, in those days, artificial sweetener was carried in only one in my small town, I believe. The name of it was Sweet 10, and it was liquid. It was applied by turning the bottle over and administering drops. It tasted better than saccharin, also occasionally found here and there in the form of small tablets. No, I remember no sweetener packets in grocery stores, much less on restaurant tables.

There were certainly no packaged products for baking in grocery stores. There were certainly not many diet soft drinks until later. Punch, cocoa or apple cider, the other holiday drinks? No, and when I was young, just “standing around” at parties where I didn’t touch birthday cake, Christmas cookies, or eggnog, and certainly not fruit punch—became socially overwhelming. In addition, I was shy and making meaningless conversation was difficult at best. Furthermore, what to do with my hands? On one such occasion, a high school teacher finally advised on one such occasion that I learn to drink coffee. Not yet an adult, I thought the idea odd. Still, I would never have wanted people plying me with acceptable snacks.

By my teen years, we all heard about the various artificial sweetener and cancer scares, but as a teen, I certainly wanted those diet sodas. (A soda without after taste does not to me, taste right.) Again though, Christmas and Thanksgiving, even Easter weren’t all that big a problem. In the Midwest, these were family holidays, and I had family who got “diabetic recipes” from books, or learned from dieticians how to substitute sweeteners to make passable desserts. Oddly enough, pies seemed to turn out better than cakes. Mom made a good sweetened strawberry shortcake though, which fit in with my summer birthday. I was past the age of Easter eggs or Halloween candy, so no problem there really.

For a growing young woman, Valentine’s Day became more of a problem.  No, “diabetic candy” was not in great supply back then, though when he traveled for work, Dad—my best Valentine—could cart in rare boxes from St. Louis. Very much later, non-Christmas cookies began cropping up in stores. Still, I had and have no interest in baking—I am not perfect, and would certainly have licked the spoon. I guess, except for chocolate covered cherries and ice cream, I simply turned my attentions elsewhere.

Of course, I still like turkey and dressing, too much food on a holiday. I also still like to avoid that sweet, syrupy feeling of too much sugar hitting the blood stream after big meals. Perhaps unlike many a “cheating diabetic,” I didn’t and don’t feel inclined to sneak desserts. When I was young, diets of a large amount of calories were enforced, and I’m afraid I got out of every big meal I could. Oddly enough, during this time when blood sugars were not checked regularly, I did not often suffer low blood sugar from a missed meal.

I think my body was already telling me what many diabetics have since learned—that many do better on several small snacks or meals a day, as opposed to the large meals sending loads of carbohydrates sluggishly through the system, and raising the blood sugar way, way up. I rarely indulge with a whole piece of pie or a piece of Christmas fudge. Brownies have always been nothing but trouble. I’m kind of thankful I became a diabetic so young, as I really feel nothing as others sit around me eating. Yes, by all means, eat cake!

I hasten to point out that I still celebrate holidays. For the sake of family and my Midwestern values, I look forward to them. The only way I can stand winter is Christmas—but I like the lights, the silver bells, and the family and friend get-togethers. Perhaps I should feel lucky that I’m with those who say that Christmas or any holidays are about more than the crassly material and commercial. Especially Christmas seems more about creating warmth and light in a cold world. The same for a diabetic then as anyone else. Children help spread joy also then. The world is new, you see.

Another great thing about the pump and better health is that, though I’m still lonely out here as a person who does not care a lot about food in a world of gourmet cooks, is that I’ve finally been experiencing hunger again. You heard me right. For years, I simply equated hunger with low blood sugar—not fun. Now I’ve actually come to realize at times that I’m hungry—and no, my blood sugars are not out of control. At first, I actually found the feeling odd or even annoying. Now though, I find I look forward to certain meals or most of all, I like trying new foods. An adventurer after all! Perhaps moderate hunger is what causes us to enjoy the cherry rich sweetness of life? Bring on the good cheer!

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