In a world of casual acquaintances and social media friendships, you know your family members better than anyone else. You’ve participated in their milestones, been with them through thick and thin and know their likes and dislikes down to a T.
And then, one of them drops a bombshell so shocking, you wonder if you really know them at all.
Oldest Younger Brother and his wife, Sister-in-law, joined us for Easter dinner this year. Mom and Dad had prepared our traditional repast: roast lamb with mint sauce and a ham steak.
As we were passing the serving dishes, Oldest Younger Brother said that he had something important to tell us. We waited until the dishes had made their rounds and everyone had been served, anticipating news about a work-related decision or perhaps an announcement about starting a family.
He took a deep breath, and uttered the words that shattered our world forever:
“I like ham.”
In near unison, our entire family exclaimed, “What?”
For the past 20 years, Oldest Younger Brother has portrayed himself as an ardent ham-hater. In fact, this is one of the reasons our Easter dinner has roast lamb as its centerpiece and the more ubiquitous ham has been reduced to a side dish. If Oldest Younger Brother is partaking of what would otherwise be a ham-centric meal, there needs to be a non-ham option so he’ll have something to eat.
He gestured to his plate. “I took a piece of the ham steak when it went around to see if anyone might notice.” He cut into the ham and took a bite of it with obvious enjoyment.
There was a considerable amount of sputtering as we tried to wrap our minds around this revelation.
“I’ve been encouraging him to come clean,” Sister-in-law said. “I told him that he couldn’t keep lying to his family about this.”
When Oldest Younger Brother was 10 years old, Mom prepared a ham for dinner. Though he liked ham, that wasn’t what he wanted for dinner that night. He told Mom that he didn’t like ham and made a fuss about how there wasn’t anything for him to eat for dinner because ham was the only option. Mom took his complaint seriously and made him a frozen pizza instead, satisfying his immediate craving for a non-ham meal.
But now that he had established himself as a ham-hater, there was no going back. I stopped suggesting ham and pineapple as a pizza topping when we ordered out, Dad stopped packing ham sandwiches in his lunches and Mom began providing alternatives for him at every ham-centric meal. At 10 years old, Mom and Dad felt Oldest Younger Brother was old enough to voice his opinion about his gastronomical dislikes and have a say in what he ate as long as he made healthy food choices.
Even though he really and truly loved ham, Oldest Youngest Brother couldn’t let on that he did without getting caught in his lie and possibly punished. There was also the thrill of having gotten away with his deception, and he wanted to see how long he could keep it up. He successfully maintained his ruse until he went away to college at age 18, sneaking into the kitchen late at night after the rest of the family was asleep to eat leftover ham scraps.
Given that Oldest Younger Brother has not been a full-time resident at the family homestead for more than a decade now, it could be argued that we could’ve returned to our regular consumption of ham as soon as he had gone away to college. By that time, however, it had become a way of life, and Oldest Younger Brother is at the homestead enough, especially for holidays, that it didn’t make much sense to return to ham-centric meals.
And so, Oldest Younger Brother moved out and enjoyed ham to his heart’s content, making sure to abstain from ham consumption in the presence of his family, while the rest of us continued to suffer ham deprivation. All I can say is thank God it wasn’t bacon.
I have had a particularly difficult time adjusting to Oldest Younger Brother’s revelation, for, in addition to missing out on years of spiral hams, I have missed out on years of Grandma’s homemade raisin sauce, a recipe that is only served with ham.
Since ham was typically not the focal point of our meals because Oldest Younger Brother wouldn’t eat it, we would usually have a ham steak instead of a spiral ham with all the trimmings. Given its much smaller size, it isn’t really worth the trouble of making raisin sauce for a ham steak.
To top it off, Youngest Brother is 18 and Younger Sister is 17. Because of Oldest Younger Brother’s 20-year deception, they have been raised in a world without raisin sauce and thus have not developed an appreciation for raisins. This is unspeakably cruel and, it turns out, entirely unnecessary. It has been a hard thing to forgive.
Truly, we know very little about other people, even our closest family members. One moment, everything is rosy, and the next, you’re wondering who that ham-loving stranger sitting at your dining room table is.
– Teresa Santoski
Originally published May 5, 2016