By RHONDA SCHROCK
I could scarcely believe it. Why, it was hardly American, not to love it like that. To skip it right over, to pass it right up. To go for the boring instead.
On the Yoder side, we devoured it. Drove miles and miles across the flat Kansas prairie to eat Mexican food. We’d empty bowls of salsa, nearly licking them clean before tackling a table of tacos, burritos and chimichangas. Drenched, of course, in salsa.
Forget Einstein and his theory. I had my own. “The hotter, the better.” That’s how that went, and the sweat on my brow told the tale.
A friend of ours theorized like this — if his scalp tingled and his nose ran, he knew it was right. Knew he’d nailed the JPSI (jalapenos per square inch) ratio. Diff’rent strokes, diff’rent folks and all that.
Anyway, it wasn’t just us. Amongst the greater tribe of Jacob (that was my granddad), there numbered a fair lot of fine folks who loved the tongue-tingling taste of Mexican cuisine. And they’d bring it to gatherings where spicy intermingled with sweet on holiday smorgasbords.
Whether the penchant for the pow was related to the perk and sass of the red hair in our clan was uncertain. What was certain is that tacos, burritos and JPSI ratios were unknown quantities on the other side of the fence. There, they favored Italian, devouring spaghetti by the pot, lasagna by the roaster and garlic bread by the wheelbarrow.
Then Italiano met Mexicano. In other words, Mr. Schrock and I started dating. Eager to please, he’d trot happily along to our favorite place (Chi-Chi’s), only to come home and upend a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, thanks to the twisting and turbulence in his touchy tummy.
The other glaring difference between our family spreads was down on the dessert end of the table. On the Yoder side, it was colorful and varied, boasting everything from rhubarb dishes to custard pie to Aunt Emma’s graham cracker fluff. But on the Schrock end, it was brown. Brown like chocolate.
That, at least, was all that a young Mr. Schrock would touch. And it seemed to be what the family at large preferred. The Christmas spread showed the truth of it, table groaning beneath a preponderance of chocolatey confections. These included, but were not limited to, fudge, double fudge, chocolate-dipped pretzels, chocolate crinkle cookies and the family favorite, cream cheese cookies. Otherwise known as carb bombs, they consisted of cream cheese frosting slathered between two chocolate cookies. The person who chipped these in was hailed as a conquering hero, lauded, applauded and praised through lips ringed with crumbs. In chocolate.
Funny, isn't it, how opposites attract? How cautious “play it safe” meets bold “take calculated risks,” and they start a business? How “everyone’s a friend” and “all the world’s a stage” meets “hates the spotlight” and “doesn’t like crowds,” and it works? Or how a girl with a high JPSI ratio falls in love with a fellow who wouldn’t cross Market Street for a free plate of peppers. This, you’ll recall, is the guy who declared that he would carry a can of Hershey syrup in his car when he grew up and “drink it whenever I want to.” Yeah. That guy.
It happens all the time. Folks marry what they like even though they’re nothing alike. Oil and water. North and South. Sedate and spunky. Fire and ice.
Inevitably, it leads to fireworks. And these aren’t the fun kind, either, where the family comes over to watch the show in your back yard, roast weenies and chase fireflies. We all know what happened, after all, when North met South. There was a little old historic something called a Civil War. Both sides went hammer and tong, not unlike certain couples we all know, and things got ugly.
Of course, we know how it ended. General So-and-So met with Old Whistle Britches (as Dad Yoder might say), and they made a deal. “If you quit pillaging our villages and using your fire sticks, we’ll stop shooting at you and breaking your stuff.” Or something like that. Then they shook hands, the South came back and there was unity, at last, in the national community.
Which is how it often works. Someone does something that puts a hitch in someone else’s giddy-up. Suddenly, the “North” and the “South” are going hammer and tong, and it’s the Civil War again, circa 2013.
Then it happens. Someone calls a ceasefire. General So-and-So meets with Whistle Britches, and you strike a deal.
“I’ll quit leaving the toilet seat up in the middle of the night if you stop misplacing the keys.” Or something like that. Then you shake hands (or, in our case, share a smooch), the “South” comes back and there’s unity in the little community.
It sure isn’t easy, mixing chocolate with jalapenos. Some days, it’s a powder keg, and the wick’s been lit. Mostly, though, it’s a blend of spicy and sweet that’s anything but boring. Here, we’re many things. But whatever we are, we’re not bored.