• The Dreaded Lima Bean




    At a tender age, I began to suspect my mother was going to do away with me. She would give me that “look”, which I interpreted as “Why didn’t we have all girls in this family?” My dad was oblivious, the newspaper in one hand and an unfiltered Camel in the other. He tended to leave the art of child raising to my mom unless there was a disciplinary problem. She would explain my misdeeds, he’d always agree, then take off his belt to give me a “lickin”. Today, gross child abuse; then, just normal behavior for all dads and sons who grew up in the 50?s. I didn’t even try to avoid the strap, it was just part of life.

    Plus you had a good story to entertain your school buddies.


    My friends and I were always trying to one-up each another on whose dad could give the hardest “lickin”. The stories ranged from the width and length of the belt, to whether or not you were hit with the buckle. Some claimed an iron rod, a chain, a two-by-four or the leg of a broken chair. The old standby – hiding a phone book in your pants – an urban legend. My dad would have seen through the ruse immediately; using the phone book on me first and then the belt.

    But back to my mom and her dislike of her number-one son. She always gave me a stark look that implied that if the Passover came again, I would be one of the firstborn who was killed rather than spared. Her own method of choice was to eliminate me with Lima Beans.

    Consider the Lima. Whether you call them Butter Beans or Lima Beans, they are a disgusting piece of starch with the flavor of balsa wood. And the term “Butter Bean” shames the word butter. The flavor was more like what you’d expect if the beans had been stored for a year in a mason jar, with rancid margarine as the marinade.


    Like many legumes, the seemingly innocent Lima Bean should not be eaten raw – doing so can be lethal. (And who would want to die in such an ignoble way as Death by Lima Bean?) The beans can contain a high level of cyanide, which is part of the plant’s defense mechanism. In the U.S. there are restrictions about cyanide levels in commercially grown Lima Beans, but not so in less developed countries, and many people become ill from eating them – naturally, we import tons from overseas.


    My mother, of course, somehow knew all about the deadly Lima; and at an early age she would give me raw beans to eat. She would tempt me by saying, “You know your grandfather was six foot four. He got that way from eating raw and cooked Limas as he was growing up. Wouldn’t you like to be that tall, the envy of your friends and adored by the girls at school?” No question, I would, but somewhere in my memory, the image of my barrel-chested, five-foot-three-inch grandfather came to mind, his large stomach advancing before him. He took me aside one day and told me his belly size came from undigested Limas.


    Lima Beans should be cooked thoroughly, then uncovered to allow the poison to escape as gas. Also, the cooking water needs to be disposed of to be on the safe side. Mother cooked our beans in a covered pressure cooker, which captured all of the poisons – then insisted I drink the liquid residue. “It has all the necessary vitamins” she testified. Then she would say, “Stop gagging, don’t be a wimp.”

    When the Grandfather Envy plan didn’t work, she would heap my plate with the boiled beans and insist that I eat every scrap until the crockery was polished. That was the standard at our house – you ate everything on your plate until it was clean. And you didn’t get to pick the portion; she did. If it took all night to finish your plate, so be it.

    After one overpowering bean meal, I finally threw up. My mother’s sympathy was expressed as “Get the mop right now. When you’re finished, I’ll load your plate up again—and remember, no vomiting at the table.”


    I was so violently ill after one stuffing that my dad insisted we go to see the only doctor in our town. There were no lab tests in those days, no blood draws, no ultrasounds, just finger probing. He just looked at me, listened to the rumblings of my stomach, poked a couple of times and said, “Have you been eating excessive amounts of Cauliflower, Cabbage or Lima Beans?”


    “Against my will,” I said. Then he recommended a bean-free diet to my mother, which she promptly ignored. My whiny sisters would, as usual, get off the hook, with some phony excuse such as allergies, but I never caught a break. Even trying to hide food in clothing or dumping it off the table never worked. Mom had radar eyes. I did bring a paper bag to dinner one night and scraped whatever I could into it each time my mother looked away. I later took the mess outside and tried to feed it to my dog, Lucky. He sniffed a couple of times, lifted his leg on the pile of starch, and then bit me on the ankle.

    When you were finally done with supper, you had to be excused, or you were right back at the table for another half hour. Didn’t stand up when a woman entered the room? Trouble later on, banished to your bedroom on Saturday morning when all of your buddies were outdoors goofing off.


    The Limas usually had an accompanying dish — Liver and Onions; the liver cooked to the point you could use it to patch a tire. When I asked what beast had donated their organ, the only answer mom would give was this, “I promise you it isn’t from a human.”


    I always had to use a large steak knife whenever liver was on the menu. Sometimes it was so solidified that when sawed apart, the result resembled barbeque briquettes. I put a couple of these chunks under my shirt one night; later I chucked them against our cinderblock garage. The liver briquettes were undamaged, but I found major chips in the cement. As for the onions — they were slimy, wormlike slivers that failed miserably in trying to offset the taste of the cholesterol-laden liver blob.


    I trudged my way through high school, trying out for various sports, pretty much to no avail. The Lima Beans and Liver had done their work – body permanently weakened and immune system destroyed. Admittedly, I did have somewhat of a faint heart when it came to suffering any physical pain — and naturally, I had no ability — perhaps that contributed to my lack of athletic prowess. I claimed that I had made the wrestling team, only because they practiced in the evenings, during dinner. However, my mother called the coach, who said he had never seen me. Once again,I was back at the table.

    When I complained to my dad about the indigestion problems with Limas and Liver, he closed his eyes as if in meditation, hesitated a moment and then said he was going to give me some excellent advice. “Women,” he said, “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them”, then hid behind his newspaper. “What in Hades did that mean?” I wondered.

    I have pretty much recovered from the force-feeding of Lima Beans and Liver, although I know it stunted my growth. I’ve found there are other legumes that are somewhat eatable – Pinto, Navy, Black, and Red. Throw a ham hock into a caldron of boiling navy beans, and then spread the results on some newly baked bread – it’s a feast indeed. As a lowly private in the military, I often found beans on the menu. However, the ones I sampled in the military mess were like reconstituted grease – pretty much the same as a Lima Bean. I decided I’d rather starve than eat.


    Eventually I was Lima Bean free, but remained extra cautious. I’d check ahead with the restaurants, just to be sure, and even did my due diligence when we were invited over by friends for dinner. If there was a hint of a Lima, I backed away like the devil was after me.

    Then one night we were out to dinner and I ordered a salad. I was poking around, making sure there were no Limas. Satisfied, I put a forkful in my mouth. I immediately spat the entire contents into my napkin. “What the Hell is that?” I exclaimed. “Dear, its just a bean to enhance the flavor of your salad,” my wife said, “Nothing like the Lima Beans you hate.” Not so— it was a dead ringer for the putrid, Lima taste of my past.


    It was GARBANZO, Son of LIMA.


    October 2014


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