My dad had the luxury of retiring early which meant my mom was off the hook for making me lunch. In my mom’s day, there was a Standard Model for the sack lunch: one sandwich, one piece of fruit and two cookies. Sometimes Mott’s applesauce was substituted for the piece of fruit and sometimes there were Oreos, Fig Newtons or Mother’s Angel Chip, Gaucho or English Tea cookies. The sandwich varied from the classic PB&J (Skippy Super Chunk only), anything Oscar Meyer–except liverwurst–to the occasional tuna-fish, mayonnaise delight. Always on Wonder Bread-Thin Sandwich. Always chagriningly cut straight down, not diagonally. The Standard Model carried me from the wee days at Prestwood Elementary to the I’m-angsty-but-too-cool-to-show-it days of Altimira Middle School and will guide me, undoubtedly, when I have children.
It was during the awkward middle-school years when my family discovered Trader Joe’s as a viable, albeit inconvenient (in the next town over), alternative to Safeway. Trader Joe’s was a great place for my dad because during this time he converted to veganism via the McDougall diet, and TJ’s had many vegan options. They might still, but I don’t pay any attention to them if they do. Two items that were invariably in the cart every time we went to TJ’s were the vegan, baked tortilla chips (New Flavor! Cardstock!!) and the vegan, spicy black bean dip. The former scored a 2/10, the latter scored a 7/10 and together as a snack they scored a mediocre.
My dad’s first few forays into lunch making were quite conservative. The inertia of my mom’s Standard Model and recently relinquished post as lunch lord carried over for about a week. But with time and experience came audacity and experimentation. Slight deviations from the norm sprouted: wheat bread, mustard, homemade cookies. Little tweaks, minor changes, until finally the lunches he made me started to take on structural differences, completely obliterating the Standard Model. Everything seemed to double, and from my perspective as someone suffering from Growing Boy Syndrome, this was completely reasonable and invited. I no longer felt compelled to eat a slice of pizza and a roast beef sandwich from the cafeteria after my lunch. Elements outside of the realm of the old-school lunch model were incorporated, like candy, crackers, nuts and yogurt. Furthermore, an artistic revolution was taking hold of my dad and my sandwiches were his canvas (see Figure 1). There was something about this brave new world that my dad really enjoyed. A creative outlet that, perhaps, he never nurtured during his 30 some-odd years at Pac Bell.
The heyday of my dad’s lunches was truly awesome. But little did I know that he was creating a lunch bubble. For him, every subsequent lunch somehow had to outdo the previous one. Though noble in theory, it was a highly unsustainable practice. I greedily reaped the benefits of the good times but I also had to grin and bear it during the lunchtime recession.
I remember what popped the bubble, too. I remember it well, like it’s still stinking up my backpack and permeating through the sandwich bag en route to leaving dark brown spots on the brown paper bag making it look like the bag just peed itself. Yeah, the memory is still clear. I don’t blame my father because I know he knew what I liked to eat. BUT, this day his creativity got the best of him–and me.
Sandwich one was a generous dollop of Trader Joe’s Vegan Spicy Black Bean Dip with crushed Trader Joe’s Vegan Tortilla Chips on Wonder Bread. Leaky sandwich two was a PB&S: peanut butter and syrup (Mrs. Butterworth’s) also on Wonder Bread. So not only was it leaky, it was sticky. And everywhere. Including all over sandwich one, which did not need any help being terrible.
And there was syrup in my backpack. On my books. Notebooks. A sweater. I guess he didn’t know that Wonder Bread cannot stand up to Mrs. Butterworth’s, or that a simple fold-over sandwich bag cannot contain Mrs. Butterworth’s, or that a sack lunch is no place for Mrs. Butterworth’s. Now he knows, I suppose.
The spirit of my father turns 69 tomorrow and one way I honor his memory is with silly anecdotes. I miss you, dad. But not your sandwiches.
Oh, and I did take a bite out of the chip-n-dip sandwich. But just one.