How do you know when you have been accepted into the inner sanctum of your family-in-law? For me, that litmus test was pizza. Or more precisely, pizza toppings.
Thirteen years ago when I still thought a size 8 pair of jeans was chunky and crop tops were cool, I met this boy from the Midwest who started following me home after work, baking me cinnamon squares and restocking my refrigerator to keep me from starving on my intern “salary” and the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that had become my daily staple. He introduced me to vistas of Americana I had not yet encountered first hand: baseball on the national mall, demonstrations, 4th of July parades, and fireworks, oh my, the fireworks. He loved baseball caps, the Detroit Tigers, Michigan winters and pizza. He made pizza sound like the holy grail of all food groups. And it was from him that I learned that there is ONLY ONE KIND OF PIZZA – if it ain’t pepperoni, it ain’t pizza.
Now this came as a surprise to me considering the fact that in my world there was always a plethora of pizza toppings to savor, embrace and ultimately down in rapid succession: barbecue chicken, avocado and bacon, pineapple and ham, to name but a few. Pepperoni was simply the awkward afterthought of someone unskilled in the art of ordering a truly great culinary experience. As a stand alone it was unthinkable.
Talk about a culture clash. Midwest meet Gauteng. In fact, even the terminology was incompatible. We say “take-away” you say “take out.” Oh yea, it got nasty.
For the first couple of years of our dating life our respective families always asserted their right to order their particular brand of pizza. If it was Moline it was pepperoni or nothing, baby. If it was Pretoria, it was an assortment of toppings fit to make Pete gag or be forced to pick off everything but the cheese. From his perspective, ordering inedible pizza was tantamount to torture. Having to smell it, start to salivate and then glance down at the mismatched mess that covered the delicious crust from corner to corner was more than he could bear. “If they loved me, they’d order a small pepperoni just for me,” he would whine. “If they truly cared, they’d order me a slice of veggie or Hawaiian,” I would think.
Many a couple would have been defeated by the war of the pizzas that we faced. But our love was strong. We lived undaunted in the no-man’s land of half-and-half. If it were up to us, we always ordered half Hawaiian and half pepperoni. But secretly we longed for the day when the walls that divided our familial tastes would be broken down and we could be accepted as ourselves, worthy of a whole pizza generously covered in the respective topping of our choice.
Time passed. We got married. Our families were forced to accept that our respective tastes in pizza were never going to change. And dang if it wasn’t worth the wait because the night that my family came back with the pizza order that included a LARGE pepperoni –entirely unprompted (if you don’t count the previous 2 years of passive-aggressive sighing) – all for Pete was the night I knew he was one of us for reals! And, subsequently, when I overheard my mother-in-law placing an order for “Two large pepperonis, oh, and one Hawaiian too please” I felt the warm grin start at my face and spread over my entire body. I had made it. I was in, baby, accepted, quirky pizza toppings and all.