Scraping the Bowl
By Trudy Wischemann
3:06 pm,
May 9, 2024

You’d think I’d had enough of hunger after last week’s immersion in the Irish potato famine. But scraping the bowl of an injured cat I’ve been spoonfeeding the past few days, another episode from hunger’s history reappeared.

I confess that I’m a smidge prideful about how much I can scrape out of a cat food can, spreading the delicacy among many mouths. There might be someone who can scrape out more specks of food and drops of juice with nothing more than a common teaspoon, but they’d have to show me.

I’d lost my little Rocketman Wednesday afternoon. A year ago December he arrived as a kitten at my back porch with a bad upper respiratory infection I didn’t think he’d survive. But he was serious about seeking asylum here, and his spirit was contagious. With the help of Lindsay’s heroic vet, we got his airways and eyeballs cleared up. I’ve been rewarded with his affection ever since.

So when he didn’t show up for his afternoon rations, I spent the rest of the evening outside calling his name, searching bushes, walking alleys, feeling hopeless. In the morning I repeated the process, and again in the afternoon after almost giving up. Just minutes before the vet’s office closed for the day, he appeared out of nowhere, dusty and unable to stand, looking as if he’d crawled miles through dirt. By some miracle the vet’s office took him in and by that night I had good news: though his pelvis is broken in three places, he’ll likely recover with a month’s confinement. 

It was while I was scraping the bowl I’d mixed his food and medications in, spooning it out so his head did not have to bend to eat, that I realized why I’ve become so good at this one thing. It isn’t just miserliness. It isn’t just being environmentally conscious, thinking that specks and drops of cat food going into mouths is better than washing them down the sewer line. It’s the voice of my father talking as long as I can remember, saying to me, a chronically picky eater, “Clean up your plate. Think of the starving children in China.”

Many of you may have heard that from your parents as well. There were starving Chinese children in the news in the mid-1900s. But my father actually saw them with his own eyes, and despite all the other terrors, I think that was his worst wartime experience.

Dad wrote a book about his time in the Coast Guard on the LST 18 (LST stands for landing ship tank, and also “long slow target” in Navy jargon.) After a thousand revisions, he self-published it as “From the Crew of the LST 18,” described as “Light-hearted stories of life aboard a Coast Guard-manned LST in the South Pacific during WWII, intermixed with five invasions in the last year of the pacific war.” In general, it is a study of how ship-specific language quickly develops in the need for camaraderie and humor under confined and dangerous circumstances, i.e., it’s a little hard to read unless you were part of that language system. But that banter dissolved in his description of what happened after Aug. 15, 1945 when the war was declared over. 

His ship began to travel from the South Pacific, through Borneo and the Philippines to China in the north. The trip included surviving a typhoon that sank several ships, but not his. They “tied up” (docked) in the Port of Taku, and there he witnessed Boat People, “who are born, live and die on little sampans.” And it was reading this paragraph that made me realize where his admonitions to clean my plate had come from. 

After describing the sampans loaded with families who drank water from one side of their little boats and dumped their waste over the other side, he wrote:

“I will never forget how the people in those sampans skimmed the water with saucer-like dishes to rescue the flour residue that was washed from the Japanese freighter (which was tied up right behind the LST 18, delivering flour.) They would wait, while we dumped the leftovers from our meals over the side, getting a meal in return.”

“And we griped if the toast was hard and dry,” he ended ironically. He never did forget that sight, or the contrast between their lives and ours.

I scrape my bowls because it’s good for my heart. I can’t feed the world, but I can keep from wasting its food.

Trudy Wischemann is a less-picky eater who writes. You can send her your bowl scraping techniques c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247. This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of the Mid Valley Times newspaper.

About the Author

Trudy Wischemann
Local writer of the column ‘Notes From Home’