Only as Good as Childhood Memories by child grower Annita Woz

jumpingfeetonbeachtaylorI love to cook and love to try new ingredients, new combinations of flavors, new twists on old favorites.

I love to use up what is left in the refrigerator.

I love to test people and see if they ask for seconds– then I know the food is good.

I love to cook for men as they eat most of those leftovers before they are left. 

With six siblings in my family, we almost always had fried chicken for Sunday dinner and creamed carrots.  I recall making syrup sandwiches for a snack – yes! – and plenty of times I put miracle whip on toast, too.   I remember cutting Velveeta in perfect slices using a long piece of dental floss to cut across the block and when I read a recent article on NPR that said,  “A grilled cheese sandwich tastes only as good as the childhood memories associated with it…” I believe it rings true. 

At ten, I  took those dental floss thin slices of Velveeta to make toasted cheese sandwiches for our family. I am mom’s helper.  The three youngest in the family sit lined up on the bench, the long side of the table pushed close to their necks so that they couldn’t drip tomato soup on their laps.  The triangles of crusty bread and gooey cheese, the dipping of the pointy corner into the bowl, the quick lift to avoid the splash .  This meal is the taste of many dinners and suppers and  these moments swirl in my head again.

The laughing and talking about our day with Dad, who sits opposite me on the end of our yellow table, is noisy and competitive, each of us out-shouting the other until we get the stern look that simply says, “Enough. Eat. ” Mom pours the milk for everyone and my sister interrupts to ask to go to the bathroom, again.  The beagle, staring at the dinner plates, paces the linoleum and we make ourselves a piece of jelly bread for dessert if we are still hungry. 

Sitting near the window, my traditional spot, I smell the putty that Dad uses to seal the windows with his flat bladed knife, his fall ritual, the dipping in the small can that had been opened by the screwdriver, the same carried slowly round the back of the house, visiting each crank out window, waving hello with the rubber goo, saying goodbye to the leaky sills, saving heat in the winter, giving one more cheap fix on a long list of projects that keep us on budget. 

This putty is a smell that I recognize anywhere, that makes me close my eyes, and breathe in, expecting to pull back from the past the rest of the any summer, many summers.  This memory of a July day,  locked in and only released when I am cooking toasted cheese for my own family,  when I see myself at the counter,  barely tall enough to see the sandwiches, melting, the cheese peeking out of the bread,  on the back row of the black griddle. 

As the slices of cheese are arranged on the buttered bread, the buttered tops gently pressed over the cheese, this memory of eating toasted cheese in our little house finds me now, in my grown up world, and makes me rest my spatula on the countertop, and pause for a moment in my toasting and stirring.   Around my head spins the half truths and the mixed up stories that I believe are true because I’ve revisited and revised them so many times that they are solid facts.  We were a happy family.  We had enough to eat. We ate good food while sitting around a table, together at all mealtimes.

This story of a simple summer supper is told and retold to my own children, parts of it shared when we sit together to eat in our kitchen, whenever I see my children’s feet dangling from the stools on the counter, see their little toes curl up on the bar between the legs of the stool to keep their balance as they dip their toasted cheeses into their tiny bowls of tomato soup.

Yesterday I was a girl, sitting around the table in a three bedroom ranch, with the orange counter tops and  bright yellow and red shag carpeting in the living room-  thinking of nothing more than who had the chore that day of doing the dishes and who had to clear the table, and how fast I could be, and how fast I could go running outside to play Red Light Green Light or Statue in the space between the neighbor’s house and our own. 

I am ten, eating a Velveeta sandwich, and it tastes like it should, warm, like my childhood, and then the last beautiful bite is gone.

### by child grower Annita Woz June 2009.

One Response

  1. As I am reading I am drawn into my own summers as a kid. I hope my kids have the same wonderful memories. Candy

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