John Fountain: Oatmeal is a metaphor for life

SHARE John Fountain: Oatmeal is a metaphor for life

Oatmeal. I have hated it. Sticky, gooey, slimy. For most of my life, I found it hard to swallow even one spoonful. But here lately, in oatmeal, I have found a metaphor for life.

I cannot remember all the mornings as a little boy that I sat at the kitchen table, surrounded by more than a half dozen cousins, staring at the bowl of Aunt Mary’s oatmeal, having already wolfed down my buttered cinnamon toast. The rule was simple: You can’t leave the table until you finish your oatmeal. All of it.


Aunt Mary, my mother’s oldest sister who babysat us, didn’t really care about my apparently finicky ways. Except, I wasn’t trying to be difficult. I would rather have eaten a bowlful of toasty, frosted grasshoppers than oatmeal.

Oatmeal made me gag. Mostly, it was the way it streamed with yucky lines of what looked like saliva after I had dug my spoon into a steamy bowl and lifted it. The way it reminded me of okra — which I also absolutely abhorred.

On oatmeal mornings, I was always the last man sitting. Cream of Wheat mornings were better. But grits mornings were the best. Good ole’ hominy. Grits were more textured. Gritty. Not creamy. Not slimy. Not oatmeal.

As a child, I vowed never to eat, cook, buy, serve or smell oatmeal once I got good and grown — unless it was an oatmeal cookie dipped in icy milk.

As an adult, I avoided oatmeal. I confessed my distaste. Publicly proclaimed my pledge to never again indulge. Still, I marveled and also cringed whenever I saw kids or adults devouring a bowl of oatmeal like it was Häagen-Dazs.

An oatmeal-less life suited me just fine. That was, until recent years, amid my search for a cleaner heart-healthy diet. Vegetables and lean meats, fruits, and always, among the top of any list I uncovered — yep — oatmeal.

Touted as a good source of soluble fiber that helps lower cholesterol, oatmeal provides antioxidants and can help lower blood pressure and help guard against heart disease with a host of other benefits, according to its proponents. Heck, January is even National Oatmeal Month. (Grits only gets a day, as best I can tell. National Grits for Breakfast Day-Sept. 2).

My 95-year-old grandfather swears by oatmeal. He eats a bowl faithfully each morning, works out at the gym several times a week.

“It’s good for you, Grandpa, I know,” I have said to him. “I wish I could eat it. I can’t.”

Indeed in recent years, eager to partake of the benefits of eating oatmeal, I broke my vow and sought to prepare it to my reasonable liking. I tried adding milk and sugar — white and raw — cinnamon and nuts, raisins, butter… I tried cooking it long. Cooking it short. I even tried convincing myself that oatmeal really wasn’t so bad. But there was no getting around the slime.

Maybe I was destined to carry my aversion to oatmeal into eternity. Maybe some things — no matter how “good” for us — simply aren’t palatable, maybe just aren’t meant to be. Or maybe the point is never to give up on a good thing.

In January, while at a local health food store, I stumbled across a recipe for preparing oatmeal. No cooking. Just add milk and low-fat yogurt — cold or hot with any of your favorite healthy trimmings.

I carried my oatmeal home, still skeptical. Then I tried it. I have been hooked ever since.

Perfectly prepared, my way, I delight in every spoonful. Finally, at age 55, oatmeal for life. And a lesson learned.


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