Of course I had a deprived childhood. Childhood is, by definition, a time when you are deprived of what you most want and, to add insult to injury, the deprivation is presented as being for your own good. This all takes place at exactly the same time when your desires aren’t even desires, as adults know them, but are felt as pure, uncut needs.
Or so those darling cans of mandarin orange segments seemed to me, age four, one grocery-shopping Wednesday morning after some sad holiday fruit salad had tipped me to their crisp succulence. I imagined, I yearned for, I needed a bowl of fruit salad composed of nothing but mandarin oranges. My mother, rather crisp herself and distracted by her shopping list, said it wasn’t possible.
All I wanted her to do was hold the fruit cocktail, canned fruit cocktail being the pallid concoction that she tarted up with chunked green apple, sliced banana, and (sigh) canned mandarin oranges. And then hold the apple and banana. That’s all I was asking her to do. Bring me a fruit salad, hold the fruit cocktail, hold the apple, hold the banana.
Had it not been 1969, had it not been a Wednesday morning in the canned goods aisle of the Wegman’s closest to our house in Greece, New York — indeed, had I not been marooned in the seat of a shopping cart, her mini-me in our respective polyester stretch pants — this exchange with my mother could have exploded into a Five Easy Pieces type of situation. Instead, all that happened was I eyed the stacked cans of tantalizing citrus receding in the distance as my mother pushed us on toward condiments and instant soups while I pouted that my mother could have entire cans of mandarin oranges whenever she wanted and was choosing not to.