Peas, Carrots, Green Beans, and Gray Matter

The Devil Made Me Eat It

When I was very young, we lived in a ghetto…the same neighborhood where the 1967 Newark riots took place (I was just a baby, then).

It was common, in neighborhoods like ours, for plumbing fixtures in apartments to be ancient. I am talking cast iron claw foot bathtubs without showers, and drainboard kitchen sinks without cabinets kind of ancient. And most people with those kind of sinks would hang curtains around them, to hide the pipes and whatever was stored beneath.

Curtains are kind of hard to baby-proof, beyond removing anything dangerous from behind them and keeping it higher up, where the little ones can’t reach. Add to this the fact that child resistant packaging wasn’t really a thing, yet, and you’ll understand why the little boy that lived downstairs from us, died in a tragic poisoning accident. He got a hold of a can of lye based drain cleaner, from under the sink, while his mother wasn’t paying attention, and swallowed it. 🙁

After this incident, my grandmother, in a fit of fear and panic, took me around the house and pointed out a bunch of things I should never, ever touch, including a bunch of cans of Red Devil brand varnish, in my father’s work room.

“You see that devil on the can? That means it’s poison and you are never to go near it! If you touch it, you’ll die and burn in hell with the devil, forever and ever, like all the other bad little kids that don’t listen to their grandmas!”

Yeah, that’s a harsh thing to say to a little kid, but she was just saying what she thought she needed to, to keep me far away from dangerous things. And remember, nothing had child resistant packaging. Back then, traumatizing a kid was sometimes the only way to ensure they stayed alive.

I was too young to read (about age 3), so the devil and the skull & crossbones were the only references I had, for identifying poisons I wasn’t allowed to touch.

Flash forward a couple of years, to when I was around 5 or 6 and still couldn’t read much, yet, and still identified any picture of a devil, with poison.

My father decided to accompany us on a trip to the supermarket. This usually meant he’d end up buying some sort of “Dad Delicacy”, which is any weird food that we didn’t usually have around, and I probably had never tasted before. Usually, this was a fun experience, and there are many things I got to try, at least once in my life, because my father went food shopping with us.

On this particular trip, my father decided to buy a can of Underwood brand deviled ham. Their cans have their logo on them, which is a red devil. Remember, I can’t read, yet, and still think a red devil means poison.

We got out to the car and my father pulled out his pocket knife, opened the can, spread some on a cracker and ate it. I was in the back seat, thinking my father had just eaten poison and was going to die. When my father offered some to my stepmother, she got a horrified look on her face and began shaking her head furiously, waving his hand away. This reaction from her did nothing to ease my fears, and only convinced me even more, that my father was going to die. Then he offered me some, and I started freaking out. He had no idea why I wouldn’t stop crying.

He doesn’t remember this incident, but it made for an interesting story to tell, when he opened one of his Giftmas presents, last year, and found a bunch of cans of Underwood deviled ham and a bag of imported multigrain crackers.


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