Addiction Recovery Story #22, Tiger Lily: Taming Jungle Hunger at Night

I’m turning the tables and asking you, readers, for some help. Do you stop eating after dinner — manage to hang on until breakfast the next day? I would love your feedback. This is #22 in my series of flower-titled stories about toppling sugar and overeating addiction.

My good Dad got up in the middle of the night to eat, at least after Mom died, when I was old enough to notice.

When we started father/daughter/granddaughter visits to Cape Cod with baby Figgy — in the family ranch house, beginning with a short trip near the end of my maternity leave in November 1995— I heard him open the freezer door and eat ice cream in the deep, still night. I heard the metal spoon.

The kitchen is a short walk down the hall. You can’t be a secret eater unless the other house occupants snooze very soundly. Dad didn’t try to keep secrets, anyway.

I’ve been dealing with night eating lately, too. I eat well and healthfully (and within safe fences, as planned) all day, get ready for bed, go to bed…and then toss and turn. I often head for the kitchen at midnight or after. My mind tricks me into thinking that only a snack will soothe me, like a baby with a bottle.

Sometimes the snack is small, sometimes not. Last night, it was two slices of buttered country toast with a dab of Bonne Maman Peach Preserves (bottom of the jar) and some dried figs. I sit alone in the breakfast nook while the neighborhood sleeps. I look out the window at the empty trampoline — and the bird feeders in the garden.

I call it Jungle Hunger because I could swashbuckle through the fridge and cabinets if I we had treats on hand. But the young teen is at her Mimi’s, so Oreos and ice cream are not an issue at the moment.

Our Dumont house was a Cape Cod*, built in 1957.

During the early hours of Sunday, February 17, 1991, the day Dan and I married at Saint Mary’s Church in town, Dad and I met in that house at the old green kitchen table with metal legs. It was about 3:30 a.m.

I don’t know who woke up first but probably me, and Dad heard me come down the stairs and flip on the lights.

I can see us with a couple of slices of a planet-size Mrs Prindables apple dipped in caramel and chocolate. I realize now that a handpicked, extra-fancy Granny Smith was under all that candy. Each jumbo “gift,” weighing up to 1.5 pounds, is meant to serve six to eight.

I don’t recall what we talked about — probably just small talk, whether it would snow that day and guests wouldn’t drive to the wedding (it did snow a little, but the storm blew over).

I can’t picture my nightgown. But I can visualize his sleepwear, the same for as long as I remember during the time our lives overlapped, from my arrival when he was 37 until his death at age 87.

He wore a short-sleeved, white cotton T-shirt and roomy boxer shorts. My Dad was not a pajama person or a man of gold— no chain, no wedding band. Not a plaid bathrobe sort of fellow. I never, ever, ever saw him wear jeans, whereas the girls raised in our house will be hard-pressed to remember Dan not wearing Levi’s.

I knew Dad so well. I could not have had a more loyal and steadfast father.

The apple was an impulse buy, probably plucked from a display by the cash register when I shopped at the last minute for my honeymoon, one night after work at Bloomingdale’s in Hackensack.

I might, in the back of mind, have bought it as a treat for Dad, a consolation prize. It was expensive even then (now the price is $26.99 to $29.99). I probably felt a little guilt; though I had lived in my own beach apartment for four years, I was back home for two weeks before the wedding. I was now offically leaving Dad alone in the house he had lived in for 34 years.

The word trousseau came to mind on my splurge — and a lacy feeling of shame that the bridal “trousseau” I would bring to the marriage now included a larger Bloomingdale’s credit card bill. (We both worked, so that was okay, right? So why did I feel guilty? Because I did it alone and didn’t tell Dan. We would have a shared address going forward; the bill would arrive there. As a married woman, would I now have to tell him/plan/get permission for everything I bought?)

With a sense of abandon and rebellion — my last fling — I selected an Adrienne Vittadini two-piece swimsuit (alright, bikini, but not a tiny one, by any means) with matching cover-up. It was a floral print against citron green, perfect for a two-week Hawaiian trip.

Somewhere in this Montclair house is a photo of me in that ensemble, boarding a small island hopper for our flight from Kauai to Maui.

In that photograph, taken by Dan on film that was dropped off for developing, my hair is pulled back with a wide, stretchy hot pink hairband — part of my office shower present from the Good Housekeeping Beauty Department. I felt rich with that grass-green cosmetics case, which folded, snapped and had waterproof, clear plastic compartments. It was stuffed with cherry-red lipsticks in golden cases, barrettes, a comb, perfume, nail polish. Samples the beauty editors had received as a matter of course were luxe treats for me.

More than a few of the editors at the venerable magazine were near the age (66) my mother would have been then, including my beloved editor-boss-friend-confidant-work mother/aunt, Ruth Arnstein. It was my dream job to write lifestyle copy for a glossy magazine and Ruth’s dream, too.

We both grew up in the New Jersey suburbs and attended women’s colleges (she, Goucher; me, Douglass). We loved the written word, handled it tenderly —and privately bristled at brusque coworkers. We were a team of three with Lisa, the assistant editor, in our mahogany-paneled office in the historic Hearst Building, with built-in bookshelves, cabinets and rolling typewriter tables.

Ruth is Jewish. I am Catholic. We wrote titles and text for beauty, decorating, food, fashion, crafts, microwave and nutrition/health/fitness pages — and opened batches of mail for the beloved, #1 “Heloise Helpline” household hints column.

In between, I loved hearing stories about Ruth’s childhood in the Oranges, and family holiday traditions. She talked of pot roast and matzoh ball soup and about her grandfather, who owned a paint store in Newark; her graceful mother; and her mother’s fashionable, fiery red-haired sister, Aunt Sophie, owner of many chic coats. (Ruth wore some and donated others to the Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Like Aunt Sophie, Ruth had not married — but she had a nice boyfriend, who called our desk phone line. She had no children of her own. For my bridal shower, she set an informal theme: baking. She knew I loved it, and I got her into it, too, with The Cake Bible.

Her shower gift was a handsome, tan Mason Cash Cane mixing bowl (designed in England in 1901). I used it forever for cookie, cake, quick bread, brownie and even manicotti crepe batters, and fluffy frosting, until finally, the workhorse broke.

The bowls now come with heart designs and in Turquoise, Powder Pink, Powder Blue, Cream, Red and Black. Even though I have sworn off dessert eating and baking in my sugar and overeating recovery, I would love a colored one, or a stack of them, for eye candy —maybe to whisk quiche fillings, serve tossed salad on a weeknight or present whipped potatoes on Thanksgiving Day. The bowls are sturdy and strong. They stand the test of time.

But then — I would want open kitchen shelving, as in the beautiful refurbished farmhouse I wrote about for Aspire Design & Home. Open shelving would allow us all — me, you, family, guests — to see the color-drenched bowls.

Mason Cash heart mixing bowls.

Joyce, head of the Microwave Cooking Department (GH led that new field, testing and tasting fast foods), gave me Maida Heatter’s Best Dessert Book Ever; I was familiar with Maida’s famous Palm Beach Brownies.

A book by the Park Avenue-to-Miami baking maven. Excellent story on bonappetit.com.

I untied pink ribbon — my talented pal, Marilynn, from the Needlework & Crafts Department, made me a bride’s bow hat — and unwrapped fine springform and shiny silver madeleine pans, and fluted, pure white Cordon Bleu Classic custard cups for crème brûlée and the airy popovers that were a legend in the formal GH dining room.

I wore a short, navy wrap skirt, black top, tights, heels. At 30, I was 5'9" and 147 pounds, having gone on my first diet (Weight Watchers) a couple months earlier. I started at 164 and lost 7 pounds in 7 days, thanks to the vegetable soup — and because I had eaten a full 5-inch Little Pie Company sour cream apple walnut pie just before my initial weigh-in. I was afraid to say goodbye to Mr. Goodbar and other sweets. Now, I couldn’t tell you when I last saw a number under 210.

But enough of all that. Back to the issue at hand.

Dad flew to the heavens ten years ago on March 9. I miss him keenly — the part of my heart that only my father tended and understood is still hollow. Left behind. My father loved me unconditionally. He was proud of me, amused by me, close to me, concerned for my welfare always. He made me laugh. He wanted the best for me. He understood what I was capable of as a person, a daughter, a mother, a sister, a writer. He was also a colorful storyteller, in the spoken word.

You should write another story he said. I had published one Christmas short story as a newlywed.

Now, I hear him.

And yes, Dad, I will.

Still, I cannot consult him about this night eating, so it’s up to me to overcome it.

I left the apple behind at my girlhood home. A poor substitute for a daughter, your last child, but still. I also left key things in Dad’s care — the top layer of the tiered snow-white-frosted cake, so we could freeze it for our first anniversary, and my bouquet from Jones Florist.

I called Dad to say we had landed safely in Hawaii.

I brought your bouquet to the cemetery, to put on Mommy’s grave, he said.

He sounded unhappy. I was surprised, a bit taken aback. I didn’t expect that. I also felt sad. My Dad went alone to the cemetery the day after my wedding. Mom was not with him. I was in Hawaii.

I don’t know what I thought I would possibly do with dried bride flowers, except press one in a book or an album, only for it to crumble in years ahead.

How could I have expected any less from my Christmas tree partner? You would have thought we had grown the tree and chopped it down ourselves because getting it every December 24, our cherished tradition, brought us such joy.

After Mom died, Dad called me regularly to check in at work, or I called him. We dialed each other’s office desks.

Later, home alone after retirement, he phoned in reports from the clunky black rotary phone.

Hey Al, I got the free turkey at ShopRite. It’s defrosting in the garage, he said proudly a couple of days before Thanksgiving.

I made a little Christmas tree to bring to the cemetery. With some tree branches and ornaments. I brought it today, he reported in December.

The Tiger Lily, which multiplies and spreads, is easy to grow. It plays nicely with other garden blooms. I have grown lilies in orange, white and pink. But the orange is most tigerlike.

Dad, I miss you so much. You were such a good person. A gardener. A protector. A Tiger Lily — low-maintenance but relied upon to show up time after time. You kept coming back. Kept trying with your son, your firstborn, even on your deathbed, and with your second son, always.

Your exotic intelligence (Latin, Greek, literature, art, classical music, movies, chemistry, rare among men), your light and wisdom, has not really left us.

I just read that a male Bengal tiger raised and defended two orphaned female cubs after their mother had died of illness. The cubs remained under his care, he supplied them with food, protected them from his rival and sister, and apparently also trained them. You did that for me and Sis, even though we were older when Mom died.

But Dad, why do you think you got up and ate in the middle of the night — and any ideas on how I can stop? Is there something stealthy and tigerlike about eating alone in the night?

Lesson: If you can’t sleep tonight, before resigning yourself to a kitchen raid, try the meditation app Meggy suggested. That and some ice water might tame the beast, one night at a time. You are not a baby in a crib, a baby in pink PJs who needs a bottle to sleep peacefully.

*Per Wikipedia: A Cape Cod house is a low, broad, single-story frame building with a moderately steep pitched gabled roof, a large central chimney, and very little ornamentation. Originating in New England in the 17th century, the simple symmetrical design was constructed of local materials to withstand the stormy, stark weather of Cape Cod. It features a central front door flanked by multi-paned windows.

I published my first story about sugar addiction, “#1, Buttercup: I Know an Addict When I See One,” on January 31, 2021. My next will be “#23, Snowdrop.” I’m giving the stories flower names, from the tiniest bright yellow bloom I saw as a girl on a summer night in Bedford Park to big, wide-open garden varieties, which I hope will signify my journey to self-knowledge on this sweet and sour road.

Alice Garbarini Hurley lives in Montclair, New Jersey. She worked at Seventeen, Good Housekeeping and Sesame Street Parents magazines, and freelanced as a fact checker at Cigar Aficionado. She has blogged daily at her website, Truth and Beauty, since 2010. Alice is in a recovery program.

Magazine maven, craft coffee lover, legal guardian. Passionate about fashion and lipstick — though it may not look that way when I dash to the supermarket.

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