One of my mom’s nicknames was “The Interrogator.” Whenever an infraction of the house rules had been committed, the inquisition would begin. All household operations would be suspended until the mystery of “who done it” was solved. She was relentless in her pursuit of the truth. Her style was reminiscent of Perry Mason and she had the success rate to match. She often used the “good cop; bad cop” method of interrogation, alternately playing both parts.

Three minutes with Mom would have reduced O. J. Simpson to a quivering mass of guilt and remorse.

My siblings and I still talk about the “Banana Inquisition of 1967.” It began as Mom was planning the upcoming Thanksgiving feast. Dad informed her that he had invited another large family to join us for the holiday dinner, which was just a few days away.

Mom already was exhausted from working full time and then taking care of our family of seven. We could tell from Mom’s frosty silence and thundering footsteps that this announcement had caused a serious imbalance of the usual domestic harmony.

She immediately made another trip to the grocery store for more supplies. When she came home with, among many other things, a bunch of bananas, intended for her famous fruit salad, we five children pounced on them like a Biblical plague of fruit flies. Nothing was left but a pile of limp, brown banana peels.

Over the next three days, Mom replaced the bananas three times, with the same results. That’s when she lost her temper.

“All right!” she bellowed. “Who keeps eating the bananas I got for the fruit salad?!”

The truth is, it could have been any or all of us kids. There were five of us, and the house was always full of neighborhood strays.

By this time, we were all aware of Mom’s style of discipline. The interrogation was about to commence.

Descending on her first suspect, Mom leaned so closely that her breath steamed the suspect’s eyeglasses. “Did YOU do it?” she would growl.

“No, Mom, no!”

“Look me in the eye and tell me the truth!” she would instruct, leaning even closer and directing a piercing stare of psychic intensity into the suspect’s eyes. I could almost feel the deathrays of truth shooting into my brain. At this point, even a hardcore serial killer would confess.

Eventually, either the guilty party would confess or an innocent party would “take the rap” in order to end the mental torture.

Once the guilty party had been rooted out and the mystery solved, Mom immediately returned to her usual, perky self. Curiously, there seldom was any punishment meted out. No punishment could be worse than the Inquisition itself.

I was so traumatized by the intensity of the Banana Inquisition of 1967 that I suffered for weeks from a recurrent nightmare. In my dream, my beloved mother was in a hospital bed. Her doctor would call the family to her bedside for a conference, in which he would tell us that her condition was very grave.

“But, Doctor,” I asked in the dream, “What happened to her?”

And he would answer, “Potassium deficiency. If only there had been a few bananas in the Thanksgiving fruit salad, she may have been saved.”

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