I love memoirs and autobiographies, and a while back, I read the 1991 autobiography Will This Do? The First Fifty Years of Auberon Waugh (Amazon).
Auberon Waugh was a prolific journalist and novelist, and he was also the oldest son of the acclaimed novelist Evelyn Waugh, best known for his novels Brideshead Revisited (Amazon, Bookshop) and the trilogy Sword of Honor (Amazon, Bookshop). Evelyn Waugh was a very difficult person.
Of his father, Auberon writes that “his chief defect was his greed,” and he writes about an incident, one involving bananas, that took place just after the end of World War II.
Here’s a British newsreel announcing a new initiative related to bananas:
Here’s what Auberon Waugh writes about that shipment in 1946:
On one occasion, just after the war, the first consignment of bananas reached Britain. Neither I, my sister Teresa nor my sister Margaret had ever eaten a banana throughout the war, when they were unprocurable, but we had heard all about them as the most delicious taste in the world.
When this consignment arrived, the socialist government decided that every child in the country should be allowed one banana. An army of civil servants issued a library of special banana coupons, and the great day arrived when my mother came home with three bananas. All three were put on my father’s plate, and before the anguished eyes of his children, he poured on cream, which was almost unprocurable, and sugar, which was heavily rationed, and ate all three.
A child’s sense of justice may be defective in many respects, and egocentric at the best of times, but it is no less intense for either. By any standards he had done wrong. It would be absurd to say that I never forgave him, but he was permanently marked down in my estimation from that moment.
When I read the memoir, that story struck me with great force—and it turns out, it struck others, too. I’ve learned that this anecdote is actually quite well known.
What’s so memorable about it? Of everything written by and about the writerly Waugh family, why is this so often mentioned?
I think it’s the brazenness of it—the shameless lack of consideration for others; of a father using his power to take something precious away from his children, who were clearly intended to receive it. And there’s something so concrete about the banana!
And it also shows, that sometimes, while we might think that someone perhaps overreacted to someone’s single action, it may be true that sometimes a single action seems to sum up an entire body of wrongs. Taking those bananas doesn’t seem like a kind of grabbiness that Waugh’s father did just one time.
And whatever moral lesson this story illustrates, it has greatly added to my appreciation for bananas. I try not to take them for granted.