The Color of Water

by James McBride

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What did the kids eat for dinner in The Color of Water?

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The kids ate the food that their mother brought home from her job at Chase Manhattan Bank.

The author's mother, Ruth, works as a typist at Chase Manhattan Bank; she works on a swing shift, which means that she isn't home until 2 in the morning. The cafeteria at the bank serves free food for employees, and Ruth takes food home from the cafeteria to bring to her children.

James McBride says that the kids all made an effort to be the first one to grab her purse. She brought home things like bologna sandwiches, cheese, cakes, and other items. If they were the first one to get to it, they ate well. If they weren't, they might not eat at all.

McBride says that the food from the cafeteria was better than the food that Ruth cooked. He says that her grits were like sand and butter and her pancakes had eggshells in them—his little brother called her stew prison stew.

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There is one chapter, "Brothers and Sisters," that discusses what the family ate in some detail.  It does not seem that the family had a proper dinner hour at which everyone sat down together to eat, since "there was never enough places at the table for everyone to sit" (50).  McBride's mother came home from work too tired to cook, and sometimes the children found her sitting at the kitchen table asleep.  But she brought home food from work. McBride describes some, for example, "bologna sandwiches, cheese, cakes..." (50-51).  He also mentions grilled cheese and peanut butter.  Other foods the children ate are mentioned as well (although it is not at all clear what meals these foods were consumed at), including grits, pancakes, and stew.  McBride writes that "Momma could not cook to save her life" (51), and that, combined with her exhaustion, left the children to scrounge on their own and do the best they could to eat. This may sound dreadful, but this remarkable woman managed to raise all of her children very well under the circumstances. 

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