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Essays, Memoirs, and True Stories

The Meek

Friends have told me that a lasting effect of my early experience with food is that I don’t take their struggles with diet seriously. One friend argued, sincerely, that he shouldn’t be expected to take the same responsibility for his actions as I because he was “deprived”: never having been poor, he’d never had the opportunity to learn self-discipline.

An Encounter

This afternoon, waiting for the crosstown bus at 79th and Third Avenue, leaning wearily against the shelter support — a long wait — I saw Christ.

The Forgotten Children

All through the years of my childhood, when there wasn’t much else to hold on to, I had a fantasy. On those whiskey-scented evenings when Father’s slurred yells slammed like fists into the peeling walls, I would wedge myself behind a sofa or under a bed and close my eyes.

Portrait Of The Artist

I was painting on the night my mother died. Without realizing it then, I was saved by my obstinacy, my insistence on painting no matter what. Although painting has never been a replacement for tears — or for joy either — it was a healer for that moment. During my years in Romania, I had learned to go back to my art every time I was down. Painting was like a good book on a shelf: whenever I needed it, it was there.

Corned Beef On Rye

When I was seven, my father used to complain that I ate like a dinosaur — the kind that stood on its hind legs and ripped off tree branches with its mouth. The louder he yelled at me, the more I used my spoon like a shovel, until he’d wrap his fingers around my wrist and squeeze so tightly I couldn’t breathe.

Thorns Into Feathers

Coping With Chronic Illness

In the winter of 1623, English poet John Donne was stricken with epidemic typhus. “Variable, and therefore miserable condition of man!” he wrote. “This minute I was well, and am ill, this minute.” Typhus, a louse-borne bacterial disease, killed hundreds of thousands throughout Jacobean England. At age fifty-two, Donne suddenly found himself feverish, tormented by headaches, covered with spots, and forced to take to his bed. But at least one admirable outcome of his bout with typhus was his book Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, in which he mused passionately on the condition of his stricken body and soul.


A Story

For years I would ask my wife each day at dinner, “Why must we eat this food? It's terrible — knishes, chicken soup, challah, kreplach,” and my wife would say, “We have to eat this food. We’re Jewish.”

The Gift

He was a gruff, crusty, old-country Italian, with a long memory for past hurts both real and imagined. When he was feeling testy — which was most of the time — he responded with a grunt. He gave me one now that meant no.


I back the car into the cloud that has risen from the tailpipe. The exhaust fumes swirl, hang in the wet air, and are absorbed by the fog. I get out. In the December dusk, day and night are merging into one, just like the river and its snow-covered banks and the tired drizzle. The gunmetal landscape swallows the lights of passing traffic.


The Neugents

In the tobacco country of rural North Carolina, David M. Spear has photographed a family of plain-living people, and the beauty of his vision is startling. An old woman preparing to shampoo loosens her long, white hair; it floats, diaphanous, over a bowl of water. A man lying in bed gazes out a grimy window, his weathered, pensive face illuminated by sunlight.

June 1994
Readers Write


For almost three years, I had been a strict vegetarian, but when I arrived in China I knew I’d soon start eating meat again. I was there to teach college English for two years, and I vowed to myself that I would try to fit into Chinese culture by learning the language, practicing the customs, and eating the food.

Personal Stories By Our Readers ▸


“The way one eats is the way one works.”

Czech proverb

More Quotations ▸
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