The Perfect Last Bite

On the eve of Thanksgiving, it seems appropriate to share this particular story about Mack. It is yet another one of those quirky things about her that I have often referred to as a Mackism or described as “so Mack-like” or as a “Mack-thing.” But it is, more importantly, one of her personality characteristics that should inspire us all as we look forward to the bounty of food we will enjoy on Thanksgiving Day.

One of the greatest joys in Mack’s life was food. She loved junk foods like Funyuns and painfully sour candies, but she also craved fresh fruits and vegetables. She adored a greasy American bacon-cheeseburger with fries, but she needed a steady diet of ethnic cuisine as well. She was obsessed with bacon, Korean Choco-Pies (thank you, Jackie, for feeding that obsession!), mangoes, sushi, Arizona iced-tea in the big green can, and curry fried rice, to name just a few of her favorites. But no matter what she ate, she always took time to reflect upon the food she was shoveling into her mouth, to slow down when it was almost devoured, and to take time to savor it in the end.

Many kids are picky eaters, and most do not give a second thought to the food they eat. With the exception of tomatoes, peanut butter and turkey, Mack was not finicky. In fact, from about the age of two when she already had an affinity for spicy salsa, she possessed a sophisticated palate beyond her years. Most uniquely, however, she was a kid who appreciated food, always thanked me for cooking, and spent a large percentage of the little talking she did do on discussing the food she was going to eat, the food she was eating and the food she was planning to eat.

On a daily basis, Mack also engaged in an eating ritual uniquely her own and one that beautifully illustrates her uncommon appreciation for food. When she was quite young, she started a ritual that became a daily routine in her life: as she was eating, she always planned for a perfect last bite. If she was devouring a bag of Warheads, she made certain her favorite flavor was the last one. If she was enjoying a plate of pad see ew, she moved an exacting ratio of the various ingredients of the dish to the side of the plate to save for the very end. If she was warming herself with a big bowl of my homemade broccoli-cheese soup, she made absolutely certain that there was a big, fluffy floweret of broccoli for the final spoonful. And when it was time for her perfectly designed last bite, she cleansed her palate and consumed it slowly and with much delight.

Rarely did Mack discuss this ritual or draw attention to it, but it became obvious to people who dined with her on a regular basis. Occasionally, I would prepare my own perfect last bite if we were sharing a particularly good meal; but it remained, mostly, a Mack-thing. In honor of Mackenzie, however, I am not only going to take up her perfect last-bite religion on Thanksgiving this year, but I am also going to make a concerted effort to make it a regular part of my life. I do not know why I did not adopt it before, because saving a perfect last bite makes so much sense. I do not know why I thought of it only as another goofy Mackism, because, you know what, Mack’s respect and appreciation for food should have inspired me a long, long time ago.

Mack never presumed to tell people how they should live their lives, so it is not surprising that she never proselytized her perfect, last-bite ideology. But unlike Mack, her mother is far less shy about conveying her opinions to others. So even though Mack might find it unseemly, I am going to urge everyone at my table this Thanksgiving to think about a perfect last bite as they eat through all of the dishes before them. I am going to ask them all to prepare and to slowly savor a perfect last bite.

And I am going to take the proselytizing one step further by imploring all of you to be a little more Mack-like tomorrow. To slow down, at least a little, at the end of the meal. To pause a moment to appreciate the good food. And, most importantly, to savor and to take particular delight in your own perfect last bite.

eating 1     eating 3  Back Camera   eating 4

P.S. One of Mack’s best friends, Jackie Pascoe added the following message and a picture of Mack contemplating a perfect last bite…

“This was definitely a Mack-thing. I remember Mack doing this all the time whenever we’d get sushi; she’d save the last piece of her favorite roll for her last bite, and it even encouraged me to do the same. Mackenzie would even be her goofy self before her last bite (as shown in picture below). And yes, Mack could not get enough of those choco-pies but I definitely enjoyed watching her eyes light up whenever I would bring her one or even a box of them.”

eating 5

Forks

Everyone who knew Mack was very much aware of the fact that she not only loved food, but also that she could eat quite a large quantity of it. Regularly, she would annihilate an order of egg rolls and a plate of curry fried rice, finish off a full-sized bag of Funyuns during one episode of Parks and Recreation, drain a quart of Gatorade in seconds, or eat way more all-you-can-eat sushi than seemed humanly possible. Luckily for her, however, she was an athletic kid, possessed a lean nearly 5’10” frame, and had inherited those skinny McDermott genes. She also happily embraced and celebrated her appetite, and it was often the subject of her own self-deprecating humor.

I am not quite sure when it first happened—perhaps it was in middle school or early in high school—but on at least five or six separate occasions at different restaurants, Mack’s place setting at the table contained a serving fork instead of the typical dinner fork that all the other place settings at the table had. I remember very clearly how it happened the first time. Mack unwrapped her napkin, pulled out the serving fork, held it up in dramatic fashion and said, “Are they calling me fat?” Just as I thought she would ask for a regular fork, she announced that it was some kind of an omen and began using it to consume her meal. Afterwards, she stuck that fork in her pocket and brought it home. The second time a restaurant served her a large fork, Mack was absolutely convinced that the food gods were taking good care of her. She celebrated the arrival of the large utensil, used it to clean her plate and, of course, she brought it home. The third time it happened, we all agreed with her that this large-fork thing appeared to be more than a coincidence. And every time it happened thereafter, we were not surprised by it and we always had a good laugh over it. On every subsequent presentation of these large forks, Mack thanked the food gods, used the fork, and added it to her collection in our kitchen. At home, she always insisted on using these large forks, and she would become quite indignant if I failed to put one of them at her place at the table.

The week before she left for Spain, we were at Pier 1 Imports looking at chairs for our new dining room table, and Mack disappeared. As I was considering two upholstered chairs, which we finally purchased, my cell phone rang. I answered it, it was Mack, and she said that I must immediately meet her in the back right section of the store and see for myself the amazing wall art that was absolutely meant for her to have in her college apartment in Kirksville. I was annoyed that she was calling me from within the store, but this was typical Mack and I told her I would be there shortly. When I located her, she was holding a humongous fork. With great animated enthusiasm, she said that she believed that since there was no one else in the entire world besides herself who would actually want this type of wall art and that weird circumstances—one, that she was actually in a Pier 1 with parents at all; and two, that she had, even more oddly, wandered off to look at stuff—had conspired to make her aware of the existence of these wonderfully giant and shiny forks. Therefore, she was destined to own one. She needed one. She desperately wanted one. And, she proceeded to demand one, arguing that 70 bucks for such a glorious object was a bargain.

I suggested that she could choose the fork and skip the new clothes I was going to purchase for her to take to Spain. She paused, placed her hand on her chin and cast her eyes upward, as she often did when she was contemplating one of my questions. After a few seconds, she sighed, said she would choose the clothes…this time…but that when she returned from Spain, we would take up this issue once again. As a temporary consolation, she asked me to take a few pictures of her with this wonderful fork not only to document its magnificent existence but also to serve as a reminder to me that it would be a perfect Christmas gift.

fork 2          fork 1