By Bill Buchanan
I need to lose weight. I don’t mean drop a couple of pounds. I mean lose some weight!
Now while every grocery store tabloid is full of articles with titles like “I lost 20 pounds in two weeks on the Elvis UFO Diet!” many of us have a tough time dropping weight. I have to be careful with any column concerning weight and diet. Years ago, I wrote a column after returning from a beach vacation in which I strongly suggested that some people should not be allowed to wear skimpy bathing suits in public. Now I was not talking about people who were a little chubby. I was talking about someone with a can-be-seen-from-space-with-the-naked-eye-Great-Wall-of-China-sized-behind wearing a thong about the size of dental floss.
The day after it ran, a very irate young woman came into my office and wore me out about the column, explaining how she had battled her weight all her life and it was a struggle and I should be more sensitive and blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. Well, I still feel that if a Greenpeace boat pulls over to shore, and tries to coax you back into the water because they have mistaken you for a beached whale, perhaps a thong bikini might not be the right fashion choice.
Of course, like many other Americans, I wouldn’t mind losing weight so much if only it didn’t involve exercise and cutting down what I eat. Each year millions of diet books and exercise videos are sold with the hope that there is something out there that will allow us to eat whatever we want or exercise for 10 minutes every two weeks and be trim and fit. When you think about it, man has been on the planet for thousands of years. If there were a way you could eat chocolate and drink wine all day to stay in shape, someone would have discovered it by now.
I really thought the absence of my wife, Ava’s gourmet cooking, would give me an opportunity to drop some poundage. However, the restaurants in Ojai are so good, it is a major struggle. I guess now that my apartment is set up I should probably cook more. Eating my own lousy cooking should do it —- or maybe kill me in the process.
Whenever I think of diets, I think of my Aunt Viola, who Ava once said, “had a bust like the prow of a ship.” She was a large woman, always trying to lose weight. Rather than try traditional methods, she always resorted to some kind of “voodoo” diet.
Years ago, my mother, Ava, and another aunt and I ran into Aunt Viola at the Western Sizzlin’ after church. She was alone, and we invited her to sit with us. Ava said, “Aunt Viola, aren’t you going to go through the line?” Aunt Viola replied, “Oh no, hon.” (Note: “Hon” is short for honey.) Spoken in Aunt Viola’s beautiful Southern accent, it stretched out for about 15 seconds, into “huuuuuuuuuuuuuuun.” When that word left her mouth and reached the air, it became one of the sweetest and most comforting sounds imaginable.
“Oh no, huuuuuuuuuuun. I’m on a diet. I’m just going to get me a baked potato from the potato bar,” was her reply.
The four of us went through the regular line and got our food. At one point, Mother looked up and said, “Oh Lord, look at that.” Aunt Viola had emerged from the potato bar carrying something that had to be 3 feet tall. Upon inspection, a potato groaned under the weight of what looked like 14 pounds of cheese, butter and sour cream. Yet she transported it so skillfully that she made to the table without even one calorie sliding off.
As she sat down to join us, she sighed and said, “Yeah, I’m just having me a baked potato, ‘cause I’m on a diet, huuuuuuuun.”
Aunt Viola was one of the most dynamic women I have ever known. She was an amazing combination of sweetness, strength, vulnerability, beauty and compassion.
She pretty much dedicated her life to the service of others — certainly from a cooking standpoint. Aunt Viola had three huge freezers in her house — each of which would hold the equivalent of four dead adult bodies. She cooked and baked and baked and cooked —- then froze. Aunt Viola lived to carry food to those who were in the nursing home or were shut-ins.
Her real specialty was funerals. She once made the statement (without an ounce of vanity) that in the event of an unexpected death, “I can feed 50 on three hours’ notice.” No one who knew her doubted that for a minute.
While Aunt Viola was a large woman, she carried her weight with uncommon grace and agility. And she was the Muhammad Ali of the kitchen —- hands moving almost too fast to follow as she floated around the kitchen filling plates, making notes of who brought what casserole, and cleaning/returning plates to their owners almost before they had a chance to get their coats off.
Once at Christmas, the subject of holiday “depression” came up at a family get-together. Ava asked my aunt, “Aunt Viola do you ever get depressed around Christmas?” Aunt Viola replied, “Oh no, huuuuuuuuuuuuuuun. Whenever I start feeling a little down, I just bake a cake or pie and take it to somebody in the nursing home, and that makes me feel a whole lot better.”
If we had more Aunt Violas, we might have a lot fewer psychiatrists. But I still need to lose some weight.