My father once took my two older brothers and me on a backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. It was a five-day trek that took us through pine tree forests and lush meadows, across streams and high into the mountains to Rae Lakes.
Adventure was our ambition and we got plenty of it. We saw chipmunks and rabbits and watched the night sky brighten with stars. We slept in tents. We swam in the lakes and scampered up and down trees and rocks. We climbed mountain passes where snow still lay even at the height of summer.
And we cooked over a portable gas stove a new kind of meal for us: freeze-dried food. We didn’t think a thought about the taste, and we were too hungry to give a hoot. All we thought about was how cool it was to carry a full-course meal in a few packages that weighed so little they seemed to float. We dug it and we dug into everything from freeze-dried beef stew to vegetable lasagna, beef stroganoff to wild rice and mushroom pilaf. And we topped it off with freeze-dried ice cream.
Then we ran out of food. No more freeze-dried meals. No more trail mix. No more instant oatmeal.
I think it was our last evening when the provisions went. It wasn’t Donner Party desperation but we went to bed hungry and woke up even hungrier with still ahead of us a half-day trek to the car and civilization – and food.
We booked it and we dumped our bags in the car and piled in and raced to the nearest café and took the first table we could find. I thought of asking the waiter for one of everything on the menu, please.
My father opted for a stack of pancakes for each of us three boys, with butter and maple syrup. Wow! The stack seemingly towered up to the ceiling in my famished state. Over here, over here, I wanted to shout across the room to the slow-ass waiter. He finally put the stack down. This would be no sweat, I thought. Down the hatch with the lot and then ask for seconds. And thirds.
I got a quarter of the way through and started slowing and then threw in the fork. My other brother did too.
But not the eldest. He was going for the entire stack. And while my brother and I sank into our chairs from over nourishment-induced fatigue, he polished it off and then without laying down his fork peered over at ours and asked both of us, “You going to finish that?”
He finished the rest of my brother’s and mine and he left the café that day with a nickname that still sticks: The Human Garbage Disposal. He’s a living Sink-Erator because it goes in but doesn’t turn to fat on his still slender body.
But there’s no doubt about one thing: he can sure eat.
So much so that if his plate is empty and there’s nothing more to fill it, well, he’ll lick it clean.
What does all this have to do with my family in Argentina? With my three children? Well, my five-year-old son appears to have inherited my older brother’s appetite and table manners, at least when he’s starving, which is every morning when he wakes me up. “I’m hungry,” he’ll tell me. If I loiter in bed with the pillow over my head, the phrase changes to “I’m really hungry” to “I’m really, really hungry” and finally to the get-out-of-bed-now “I’m starving!”
In this state, his slender, growing body is liable to transform into a human garbage disposal like his uncle’s. Finish off everybody’s leftovers? Slide that plate over here, please. Lick my plate? Certainly.
So wisdom tells me that when I take my three children on a five-day backpacking trip I’d better pack twice the recommended packages of freeze-dried anything and everything.
And steer clear of Donner Pass in winter.