*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I witnessed firsthand; used with permission.
Is it ever acceptable to make a comment about a woman... or her sandwich?
My mother encountered an embarrassing situation when she ordered a foot-long sub at a popular sandwich shop, and a strange man called her 'a whole lot of woman.' To this day, my mother and I aren't really sure what he meant.
Here's what happened.
My mother and I wanted Italian grinders for lunch. That's a soft white roll filled with pepperoni, ham, salami, and Provolone cheese, and topped with tomatoes, pickles, olives, jalapeno peppers, and banana peppers.
Sometimes we add onions. Then we buy a small bag of chips apiece. My mother likes classic potato chips, but I prefer a spicy corn chip. She eats her potato chips on the side, but I like to dump my chips into the sandwich to give it an extra crunch.
We drove to the local sandwich shop, ready to order our subs to go because we prefer to eat them at home in front of the television. A man got into line behind my mother, and I could see him looking at her rather intently.
My mother seemed oblivious to his attention, and I decided to wait until we were in the car on the ride home before telling her about her secret admirer. So it surprised me when the man spoke up.
"A foot-long sandwich," he said directly into her left ear. "You are a whole lot of woman."
My mother looked at him and then at me. She raised her eyebrows, but the man wasn't finished yet.
"You sure are a whole lot of woman," he said, just in case she hadn't heard him the first time. "Foot-long sub." He seemed really fixated on the size of the sandwich she had ordered, and I was glad he didn't have the same reaction to my own order, which was exactly the same.
"Foot-long sub," he repeated as if in admiration.
She felt humiliated at the moment. The comment was so shocking and unexpected. Over the years, she's come to find the incident humorous. So have I.
It's been years since that day, and mother and I still laugh about it. We can't figure out whether it was an insult or a compliment.
My mother is a sturdy woman. I wouldn't call her plus-size, but she's thick and substantial. She looks like a woman who can handle a full-size sandwich.
Society wants women to be skinny with their body weight in the double digits, and their BMI in the single digits. If that was the case with this man, then 'a whole lot of woman' was definitely not a compliment, but an insult.
Sorry. A six-inch sandwich isn't enough for every woman. A woman might want to eat her leftovers later in the evening or the following day. Perhaps a woman wants to share her sandwich with someone at home. Perhaps it's nobody's business but her own.
My mother and I will never know what that strange man meant by his comment. We will forever wonder whether being called "a whole lot of woman" is a good thing or a bad thing.
I'd like to think it's a good thing.