That someone would find it odd is quite understandable. Not me. After all, these are my parents and I know what to expect when I visit. It’s all pretty predictable. I usually get up around 8, and plod through the house, trying my best to act awake.
Mom is in the kitchen, making morning coffee. She has the tiny radio blaring so loud that all of Seattle must be hearing Paul Harvey. Without fail, Mom will ask me the question.
“Good morning, David (David, never Dave),” she yells above the radio. “Can I fix you something to eat? Would you like a sandwich?”
A sandwich. Not a croissant. Not some toast. Not an Egg McMuffin. We’re talking your basic turkey-on-rye-hold-the-mayo-extra-mustard-and-pickles full sandwich.
At 8 in the morning.
Perhaps a tad eccentric, but that’s the way it’s always been. Mom in the kitchen. Asking me if I would like a sandwich. As a kid. As an adult. Early in the morning, late in the evening–it doesn’t matter. The question remains the same.
A touch of Norman Rockwell, shades of June Cleaver, a slice of life from a bygone era. My brothers and I always tease Mom about her sandwich fixation, but it seems to have devoured the entire family. Some families gather to break bread. We just eat it. And eat, and eat, and eat.
One sandwich after another, usually at the behest of a mother convinced that a little mustard and turkey is the solution to anything. Of course, Mom can cook, but somewhere along the way, she discovered the joy (and simplicity) of slapping something between two pieces of bread and calling that a meal.
Remember the ’60s phrase, “you are what you eat”? Well, you’re also what your parents eat. That made the common sandwich a staple of my diet, a basis for examining life’s greater issues.
After all, isn’t life like a sandwich? Haven’t you ever felt like you were trapped between two pieces of bread, being smothered by mustard or mayonnaise, with everyone trying to take a bite out of you? And when do we consider people to be successful?
When they make a lot of bread. Exactly.
People we don’t like are dismissed as “turkeys,” “hams,” or even “weiners.” Disagree with someone? What do we say? That’s right, they’re full of baloney.
Or else we get excited when we learn that someone is doing well. “Hey, did you hear about Jack? He’s on a roll.“
See? The sandwich is omnipresent.
For many, childhood is a series of memories; Christmas gifts, or trophies, or the grades earned in school. Sure, I have those memories, too. But I also remember the sandwiches of my youth.
Peanut butter and jelly came first. Had to be grape jelly, not strawberry. Mom used to make me two at a time. She would scold me for eating too quickly. Then I discovered that every other kid at school was eating peanut butter and jelly. I had to be different. So I switched over to…mustard. That’s right. Mustard. No meat. Just mustard on white bread. My lunch mates would always cringe in disbelief every time I took a bite.
Not Mom. She dutifully made my mustard sandwich every morning without comment or criticism. Then came bologna. It was cheap. Not messy. I had no idea what it was, but Mom slapped it between two pieces of bread and that was enough for me.
Somehow I drifted to turkey and that became my sandwich of choice. White meat, no dark stuff. Lots of mustard. Hold the mayo. Please. Even now, Mom and Dad buy turkey by the pound when I come to visit. They know it won’t last long.
Of course, man can not live by bread alone. My taste in food has changed a great deal since leaving home. I’m married to a wonderful cook and I’ve developed a few basic dishes myself.
Except when I visit Seattle. And there’s Mom, a wisp of her former self, standing in the kitchen, wishing there was something she could do for the son she loves so dearly. Like so many years ago, Mom does what is by now sheer habit, the only thing she can really do for me anymore.
She opens the refrigerator and carefully takes out the turkey, the mustard, the cheese, and the rye bread. And asks me if I would like a sandwich.
I know. It’s 8 in the morning and I’m still half-asleep. But this is my mother. And who knows how much longer we have to enjoy these simple rituals.
So I always answer without hesitation.
Sure, Mom. I’d love one.
San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune (1993)