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Eating cherries and drinking milk will make you sick. That's what my grandma told me, and for a long time I never questioned it. I just never had cherries and milk at the same time. Then one fateful day....I did it. I must not have been thinking, or maybe it was latent rebellion...whatever it was, I ate a handful of cherries and drank some ice cold milk. And you know what? I didn't get stomach cramps. I didn't throw up. I didn't double over in pain. I was fine. This got me to thinking. Is the cherries and milk tale a myth? Is it an old wives tale? Is it just something invented by a mere coincidence?

I started looking for answers. This is what I found. Zachary Taylor, our twelfth president spent July 4, 1850 eating cherries and milk at a ceremony at the Washington Monument. He got sick in the heat, and died five days later. Did ol' Zack die from cherry and milk poisoning? Very doubtful. Most accounts believe that the stomach ailment that Zachary Taylor died from may have been cholera. But ever since that time, mothers and grandmothers all across the United States have warned their children against eating cherries and drinking milk. Interestingly, I didn't find this taboo existing outside the US.

My mother wasn't told that eating cherries and drinking milk would make you sick... she was firmly instructed that, done to excess, it would kill her. In retrospect this seems to have been an exercise of some perhaps unwise parental hyperbole on the part of my grandparents, too busy to explain digestion and, more to the point, indigestion to a little girl without yet a firm grasp on internal human biology.

Terrified into compliance she for years studiously avoided mixing her milk and, uh, cherry-meat and never again thought much of it... until the fateful night of a family gathering arrived. In addition to her parents, brother and sister there were present at the house several aunts and uncles. One particularly beloved elderly aunt had not only shown up, but - perhaps old enough to know better - was indulging in a bowl of cherries. Cherries... positively swimming in milk! (dum dum dumnnn!)

My mother looked over to her parents for some sign that they were recognizing or even observing the fatal meal being consumed with relish before of them, but they remained oblivious lost in that species of grown-up talk kids know better than to interrupt. So she remained, sitting tight and growing increasingly anxious.

Then her aunt got up to the kitchen and returned with a second bowl of cherries and milk. With gusto and aplomb the aunt launched into the bowl, spooning great heaping mounds of poison into her quivering gob. A parent asked how she was finding the cherries? - an acknowledgement at last that they had some inkling as to what was elapsing in their living room. But still, they made no move to intercept the aunt, taking away the deadly bowl or even firmly removing the spoon from her grasp in the "I know what's good for you" style they had surely employed on her or her siblings in the near past.

My mother became engrossed with the sounds and motions of the eating - the slurp of milk, the clink of spoon on bowl and cherry pit in saucer. She was probably staring unabashedly at the dear old auntie with the big eyes possessed only by little kids witnessing acts that will one day be recounted to their therapist - but how could she help herself? She had never witnessed a suicide before, let alone one of a loved family member!

Squirming anxiously in her seat, she silently pleaded to herself that the aunt was going into the kitchen to procure some sort of antidote for the spoonfuls of death she'd been ladling into her mouth. But no! The aunt returned instead with a third bowl of cherries and milk!

This was too much. Something had to give. Trembling and biting her lips, my mother watched my aunt - clearly finding this end a delectable one - slowly lick her lips after sampling the first cherry of this bowl.

My mother stood straight up and interrupted the Very Serious Adult Talk, looking slightly wild and very agitated. "Are you all just going to sit around while she kills herself?!"

Her parents told fewer lies to their kids from then on.

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