Friday, May 20, 2016

Sandwiches--How American Can We Get?

I grew up on sandwiches, namely baloney and peanut butter, not together, separate.   Mother always presented our sandwiches with the crusts cut off.  One day I was the "mother" for a day for my tiny sister. In our kitchen we had an enamel cabinet with a flat counter. Sis was as tall as the counter. She put her hands on the knobs of a drawer underneath, her eyes level with the counter, watching me as I made her a meat sandwich.  First was the mayo, followed by a slice of baloney. Now for the crusts.  I picked up a knife quite large for the job and began to imitate Mother's cutting job.  Only after one side's crust was removed, I began on another. The knife slipped  across the enamel and slid into Sis' eye.  I had the presence of mind to call the lady in the upstairs apartment to help.  No bleeding, just a crying kid. Fortunately, we got her to the doctor who put a pad over her eye and eyedrops to us for a few weeks. Today she has better eyesight than I. is a weekly site I subscribe to that discusses sandwiches.  Americans today are sandwich happy. From the lowly, poor man's lunch to the staple of America, specifically sandwiches like the sub, the po'boy, the breakfast sandwich, cheese sandwich  and others have evolved into a staple of the American diet. Then the all-famous-well-known sandwich, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is cited:

 "Like the sandwich itself, the peanut butter & jelly is a complex culinary stroke, masquerading as a simple dish. And like America, its true power lies not only in what it is, but what it represents. So the next time you bite into a PB&J, salute the stars and stripes, think about your childhood, and just try not to shed a patriotic tear along the way. This is America. And this is our sandwich."  

I can't imagine any kid who hastn't tasted a PB&J.  In my day and time the acronym was never used.  We asked for peanut butter and jelly.  My daughter for some reason as an elementary student would only eat PB&Js for meals other than breakfast.  When she visited friends, I warned the mothers not to expect J to enjoy the home-made meals, as she is addicted to peanut butter and jelly.  (I, also, slipped around and cut the edges of all sandwiches for her and her brothers.)

In our local paper  our food expert from Hattiesburg Robert St. John spoke about "uncrustables" in his family. I knew what he was talking about.  He said his mom made PB&J sandwiches with crusts removed, cut them in half, and put them in a freezer bag to be taken out in the mornings for lunch boxes.  Adults also dropped a couple of frozen sandwiches before going fishing or hunting.  

I wish my mother were here to enjoy the article. She was often ridiculed for making "tea" sandwiches for my lunch. I thought this was her way to entice us to eat.  Now I think she was passing down a custom of her own mother's. Rather than her making a "I-told- you-so" remark, she'd have smiled.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Remembering My Parents

I'm in the middle of a biography of my parents. When my parents came to live with me the last five years of their existence, I made one request of them.  Write about your growing up. I handed them a bound note book I thought would entice them to write.  Daddy, hungrily took the book and went to his office, a separate building in the backyard where he repaired clocks. Mother, on the other hand, put her book in the bedroom saying, "I'll think about it."

In a few days Daddy handed in his book, completely filled with a note attached "Addendum 1 in the works."  Daddy not only had florid script, Palmer's best, but a way with words. Sis and I can claim our love of writing came from him.  Today those words ring more true to his identity than they did when he handed me the book and announced, "There, that's the beginning." I will  write his story  soon.

Mother took her time to write. I knew heart strokes erased much of her memory, as her writing covers her youth with her brothers. She dwells a bit about Daddy's family's unacceptance of her.  Her mind couldn't get out of her childhood. I knew direct questioning would be the best tact for her.

Time after time I'd sit with her and ask questions. She couldn't understand why I was surprised at her marrying Daddy after six weeks of dating.  I held back from then on to make light remarks at some of the experiences she enjoyed: early boyfriends, her poor school grades, life in the big city alone.

My first project was about Mother.  I felt I had a better understanding of her after the many talks. Too, she had diaries she kept  from time to time in her married life, the letters she wrote me, and notes of our small talks.  Together with old snapshots I created Mother's life. I felt good with what I'd accomplished.

I shared the fourteen pages with Sis. "That's not at all what I know of Mother! I'd never have written her life that way. You left out Daddy."  I explained I wanted to concentrate on each of them and then their marriage and family.  " I'll write about Daddy later," I explained. I wanted some tidbits she remembered about the woman who raised us, paid for our every need, taught us to be independent. We were early latch-key kids before the term originated.

True, we siblings have different views of our parents. Surely some events are shared more than others. Sis sums up her contribution with, "I wrote about Mother in an essay. Find it and use that. I don't remember like you did."

My trouble with Sis was my approach. I should have sat down and discussed each parent and taken notes.  I didn't. Don't make the mistake of waiting too long to get your sibs to contribute to family stories.  Writing who your parents were and their personalities are components to letting them live in your own children's hearts.

Note: having my parents write in their own handwriting is as precious as ever. In future generations their descendants will admire "the old way" people wrote.  Be sure to leave something in your own handwriting, whether it is a grocery list or a note to you.