The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Fish and Milk

By Wm. Axley Allen © 1983-2012

Issue: October, 1983

My mother, bless her soul, used to tell me never to eat fish and drink milk at the same time. This combination, she assured me, would cause instant and painful death. I never knew why she thought this but anyone hearing her caution me could not have questioned her sincerity. She was so certain that eating fish and drinking milk with it was fatal that I was convinced at age six.

I’ll never forget the inevitable lunch that was served in my school lunch room when I was in the first grade. The meal of the day was fish and there beside every unsuspecting child’s plate was a half pint carton of milk. As I went through the lunch line and collected my plate of fish and vegetables, I felt sure that today we would have something to drink in place of milk. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! I panicked and tried to skip the milk but Mrs. Greenway said, “Billy, you’ve got to take your milk.”

In a state of shock I stumbled to the table. All along the way were my innocent schoolmates, devouring their fish while their lips showed the white trace of “killer milk.” Could the school teachers be plotting our painful end?

I sat there looking about the lunch room and everywhere I saw fish and milk being swallowed. They would all be dead by afternoon recess. “Didn’t the teachers know better than this?” I wondered.

So at six years old I watched in horror as my schoolmates were being poisoned. Not me, I thought. I’ll not drink milk but Mrs. Greenway was determined there’d be no witnesses. “Billy, you’ve got to drink your milk,” she insisted. So, reluctantly, I was forced to comply.

To my utter amazement, we (my schoolmates and I) survived this mass murder attempt. After school that day I told Mom about our school lunch and she was equally horrified.

I don’t know how beliefs like this get started but I’m sure Mom was only telling what her mother had told her. A friend of mine’s grandmother thought eating too many bananas would kill you and once when one of her sons told her he ate nine at one time, she wouldn’t even let him go to sleep for fear that he’d never wake up. He survived the bananas like I survived the fish and the only victim of our encounters were these old beliefs. Beliefs that were rooted in suspicion and fear for the safety of loved ones, long before modern day science proved them wrong. They were beliefs born in a day when instant death took children while parents looked on in helpless fear.

Mom told me a lot of things that were true such as “Stand up for what you believe in” and “Things have a way of righting themselves” and “If you do something wrong, it’ll always come home to you.” Mom, I’d like to thank you for these, but I really think you ought to reconsider “fish and milk” and your abiding faith in “baby-kissing politicians.”