By Gershon Ben-Avraham
When four years old, while eating a piece of chicken on a family picnic, Virginia Coleslaw ingested a chicken claw. It didn’t chew well, and had to be surgically removed from her throat, where it had lodged itself on its way to joining the rest of the chicken leg. Virginia decided that that was it for her with meat. Going forward, she would eat only grains, vegetables, nuts, and fruits. Her mother tried to reason with her, but Virginia was stubborn. She would hold her breath until she turned purple, at which point her exasperated mother would concede and make Virginia a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
When she started school, Virginia graduated into what might be called the activist stage of her vegetarianism. It was then she learned that her older twin brothers took packed lunches to school. At night, Virginia would sneak downstairs, replace her brothers’ meat sandwiches with tofu, and feed the meat sandwiches to Poindexter, the family dog. Later, thinking more about it, she felt guilty and decided Poindexter shouldn’t eat meat either. From then on, the sandwiches went into the toilet. The next day her brothers would complain to their mother about the tofu. She would simply smile and say, “Dears, I didn’t pack you tofu.” Eventually the brothers gave up and set up a sandwich exchange program at school where they cornered the market on ham. Both died at twenty-two of massive coronaries. The doctor’s report said simply, “Chests exploded.”
In high school, Virginia started a vegetarian club. It never had more than three members. Even so, the meetings were always extremely passionate. People walking by the club’s door would think there was a much larger club in there. She received a full scholarship to a college in Mississippi where she posted a sign on the door of her dorm room saying only vegetarians could enter. This allowed her much quiet study time. However, Jimmy Mullins, a heavy, lifelong vegetarian from Itta Bena, would occasionally stop by with chocolate. This, Virginia would find irresistible. Her physics book would be shut immediately as she and Jimmy pondered the wonders of the cocoa bean.
Virginia dated only vegetarians. She even went so far as to develop a questionnaire boys had to complete before asking her out; not that she was pretty. In fact, Virginia was rather homely; but being a woman of principle, boys found her irresistible.
After graduation, Virginia and Jimmy married and moved to Hershey, Pennsylvania, not a place one ordinarily thinks of as a watering hole for vegetarians. The air appealed to her husband, though, and the countryside appealed to Virginia. “A good place to raise children,” she said. In time, Virginia and Jimmy had eight daughters, none of whom ever ate meat, and never had acne. Once, visiting their grandparents in Ohio and being told that being a vegetarian was “unmanly,” the girls replied, in unison, “Pawpaw, that’s wonderful!” Jimmy smiled, and handed each girl a dark chocolate Hershey bar.
Virginia, wiping her eyes, beamed. “There’s a whole new world coming,” she said.
Gershon Ben-Avraham lives in Be’er Sheva, Israel, with his wife and the family’s collie “Kulfi.” His poem “The Kabbalist” earned Honorable Mention in the 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards. His short story “The Janitor” has been accepted for one of the 2016 issues of Jewish Fiction.net. Gershon became a vegetarian while earning his M.A. in Philosophy at Temple University, Philadelphia.