Once a month, mom sat us down at the round wooden kitchen table. On the table were loaves of Arnold's white bread, pounds of baloney and American cheese, cream cheese, a bowl of tuna salad made with relish, a jar of peanut butter, jelly, imitation Miracle Whip, no-name yellow mustard, and a box of plastic sandwich baggies that you tucked, not zipped, to close.
Listening to Jonathan Schwartz's radio show on NPR, brown-haired, blue-eyed Barbara instructed us to make 200 sandwiches.
"Forget your troubles. Come on, get happy," mom sang wearing red lipstick, as she put one slice of baloney on the bread, spread some Miracle Whip, put a top on it, and slid the meal into a bag. We would do this same sandwich for a whole loaf of bread. Then we slid all of the individual sandwiches into the loaf's plastic bag and closed it with a twisty. With a black marker mom would write "B-Mayo." Then on to the next flavor: baloney and mustard (B-Mus), baloney, cheese, and mayonnaise (BC-Mayo), cheese and mayonnaise (C-Mayo), cheese and mustard (C-Mus), peanut butter and jelly (PB&J), jelly and cream cheese (J&CC), and tuna salad (tuna).
On school mornings I would eat a bowl of cereal, grab a brown bag from the pantry, and run to the basement. I'd stand on the couch, in front of the white silver-trimmed freezer box, which was as long as a sofa, and lift the lid. Cascading frosted ice chunks hung from the walls, foggy air rose, and I would choose both a sandwich and dessert.
Desserts were exciting and delicious, frozen or thawed. The choices were frosted brownies in individual boxes that came from Long Island, Ring Dings, Yodels, Funny Bones, Snowballs, round coffee cakes, and Krimpets. We were also supposed to pack a piece of fresh fruit. I don't remember eating much fruit. I do remember that our meal thawed by lunchtime and was eaten with milk from a carton purchased at school.
Packing lunches for my own kids can feel like a real challenge. My husband was a great home cook and could replicate a four-star restaurant meal from taste alone. When our kids were pre-school age, we watched an Asian film where the grandfather packed meals for his grandson in stacked tins, one incredible tiny meal after another. Bob said to me, "I want to do that for our kids." Bob died from cancer complications before he could.
After his death, I made a list of what was important to me. The first item was to walk the kids to school with homemade yummy lunches. Bucky, my 7-year-old son, is simple. Most days he is happy eating a bagel with cream cheese, a bag of Chex Mix, and Oreos.
Rhapsody, his 9-year-old sister, is more selective. If she does not like what I pack, she won't eat. On various attempts to please her, I have sent her to school with Chinese pan-fried noodles, or steak, cold shrimp with cocktail sauce, thinly sliced salami, and homemade brownies, and wondered, why am I doing this? Rhapsody likes Lunchables - buy a box and you're done.
Then I realize, it's because Bob can't. I'm making up for all the thawed, mushy sandwiches I ate and I want to be connected to my kids' growth.
Recently, I discovered peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in my supermarket's freezer section and wondered, how lazy have we gotten in America? How hard is it to make peanut butter and jelly for your child? Then I thought of my mom. She wasn't lazy. She was very smart. - Kate Kaiser
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