Personal Musings

In Which I Reluctantly Put a Spoonful of Sour Cream in My Soup

Have you ever been asked to eat something that the thought alone grossed you out or that triggered an intense flashback to an earlier time in your life you had once forgotten, that you’d pushed so far back in your memory you assumed it was all but lost, but was now stapled to the forefront of your mind?

This happened to me a few days ago when my wife Allison made homemade white chicken chili soup. The kids helped. Once I’d filled my bowl, she encouraged me to place a spoonful of sour cream on top. This is when things went south in my mind.

I pretended I didn’t hear her, my modus operandi of every day life when I want to avoid something uncomfortable, and walked in the other room while vomit began rising at the back of my throat at the mere suggestion.

My children greeted me.

“Put some sour cream on it,” my son urged. “It’s really good.”

“Yeah, Daddy,” my daughter chimed in. “Add some sour cream. See,” she said holding up a spoonful of sour cream straight from the container and dropping it into her bowl.

In that moment, I had a flashback to first grade at Phenix Elementary.

But first a general prelude about sour cream as a standalone condiment and its placement into hot soup

I’m not a picky eater by nature and sour cream doesn’t normally give me the willies. If we have tacos on Taco Tuesday, I’ll place a dollop of sour cream under my shredded lettuce before crunching down.

But adding cold sour cream on top of piping hot soup? That sounded about as appealing as a chocolate-peanut butter and tuna fish milkshake. Speaking of tuna fish.

Author’s note: if you are reading this while eating, maybe come back later.

Larry at the Lunch Table

When I was in first grade, there was a kid named Larry in my class. Larry was my arch nemesis in the classroom Spelling Bee from kindergarten through senior year in high school. He was one hell of a speller.

One day at lunch, Larry decided to pour white milk in all the sections of his tray where the rest of his food currently resided. We had a scoop of tuna fish on lettuce as our main course. Next to it sat a styrofoam bowl of mixed fruit and an ice cream scooping of sugar rice.

Sugar rice is like regular white rice in that it looks like you’re about to eat regular white rice; but when you put the rice in your mouth, you learn instantly you’ve been had. For what ever the reason, clearly early-onset diabetes not taken into account in the 1980s, Phenix Elementary and J. Murray Jeffress loved to add sugar rice to our lunch trays.

// Brief interlude //

As I was reading the first draft of this essay to Allison, she informed me this is not sugar rice but rice pudding. Here’s the thing: I know what rice pudding tastes like and what we ate was not rice pudding. I swear.

Maybe they ate rice pudding at Eureka where my wife went to elementary school, but Phenix and J. Murray Jeffress kids got sugar rice. Eureka had carpet, after all. We had exposed asbestos. Now, if someone I went to elementary school with says to me, “No, Jeff. It was rice pudding. There’s no such thing as sugar rice” then I will defer to their personal recollection. But for the purposes of my memory and this essay, I’m going to call it sugar rice.

// End of interlude //

That fateful day in the cafeteria, however, Larry didn’t just have sugar rice. He had:

  • Sugar rice with milk poured on top,
  • Mixed fruit mixed in with white milk, and a
  • Scoop of tuna fish on lettuce drenched in white milk.

No one bet Larry to do this. No one said, “Hey, Larry! I bet you won’t pour white milk over all your food in the tray then eat and drink it.”

No one did that. He just did it.

Not thinking he’d actually eat this concoction he’d formulated before our very eyes, we all looked on as he raised a helping of tuna fish and milk in his mouth. He bit down then swallowed.

My cousin Brandon looked a little queasy at the sight of this. Then Larry switched from the tuna fish and milk to the milk and mixed fruit. He turned the styrofoam bowl up and ate and drink simultaneously. White milk dripped from the corners of his mouth.

He then went in for the sugar rice and milk.

As soon as the spoon entered Larry’s mouth, Brandon started puking all over his tray. At the sight and smell of Brandon’s vomit, I started puking directly onto the cafeteria table. My friend Justin, who was sitting across from me, who didn’t buy school lunch but brought in a tuna fish sandwich every day, started puking on top of my puke in the middle of the table.

My other friend Dustin, who puked a lot as it was back in those days, started puking.

Then Larry, who was the reason for this vomit fiasco in the first place, let it hurl. Larry’s hurl was the most disgusting of all because he’d filled his belly with his white milk delicacies whereas, for us at least, we hadn’t touched a bite of our food as we initially looked on.

My estimations may be off, but I can almost swear to you that at least a dozen more of my classmates started barfing straight down a line at our cafeteria table — one after the next after the next. Teachers were shuffling seats. Other kids were jumping back from the table. People were running around screaming, “Get me outta here! Get me outta here!” breaking glass windows and leaping out the first floor window to save themselves.

Okay, that last sentence was an exaggeration. But it was very much like the scene from the movie Stand By Me starring River Phoenix and Wil Wheaton when the crew of boys are sitting around the campfire telling the tale of the pie eating contest and the infamous castor oil incident.

After writing Harold the Bully, I texted my friend Andy and said, “Do you remember that time Larry poured white milk over all his food and started eating it, and we in turn started puking all over the place?”

That’s what came to mind when my wife said, “Add some sour cream to your soup.” When my kids urged me on even further, my brain went into a tailspin as I blacked out before my bowl of white chicken chili soup sans sour cream.

Larry in first grade at Phenix Elementary. The dairy debacle that became lore.

Now, putting a spoonful of sour cream on top of your soup may be something you do or have done and you’re wondering why I find this as disgusting as I do. Fair point. It’s something I had never done nor did I realize it was something anyone did. It wasn’t until I started writing this essay I learned sour cream is used as a garnish in this way.

The next day while my wife and kids were all at school, I poured myself a bowl of white chicken chili soup and reluctantly grabbed the container of sour cream from the condiments section. I heated the leftover soup, grabbed a spoon and plopped a dollop of sour cream right smack dab in the middle.

Here goes nothing, I thought.

To my surprise, it was good.

All those traumatic flashbacks to Larry at the lunch table in elementary school for nothing. I do still avoid tuna fish and lettuce like the plague, however.

You may also like: Harold the Bully

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