The Spam Jelly Battle by child grower Annita Woz

caeljeansfeetServing canned meat means nothing to my children.  It didn’t mean a thing to me either when I was seven.  

Part of Grandma Isabel’s traditional evening send-off snack for my family, a snack necessary for the 17 minute drive from the farm to our two story rented house in rural Wisconsin, was a small sandwich made with the familiar rectangular mold of the pink meat from a can, sliced, and shared with the last people at the farmhouse after the cows were milked and the last hand of cards had been dealt.

Remember SPAM? It can still be found.  I admit I’ve looked for it.  OK,  I’ve done more than just look.  I confess, I tried to re-create a SPAM moment.

I crack myself up sometimes.

Like opening a bottle of wine, it’s all in the routine and romantic process of the opening.   

Grandma would let us take a time turning  the metal key around the outside edge, two turns for me,  four turns for the needy middle child,  a half a turn for the quiet introspective sister.  Then Grandma Isabel would pull the sharp edges apart, do the shake and squeeze with her strong hands, and out it came, thudding onto the plate, not shy about revealing its exposed and congealed salt and juices. 

I admit to enjoying the loveliness of a can of SPAM simply for the jellied part that was revealed in the opening, even though it typically caused another fight to erupt  between my sister and me.  I have learned to look back on the spat over the jelly, the scowl on her face, the triumph of getting that spoonful of salty mess,  not as a bad memory,  but as proof that I was a child, in a farmhouse, once, without any worries other than this jelly battle.

Grandma would slice it and put it between two pieces of home made bread, giving each a triangle of sandwich, with a bit of miracle whip or was it mayonnaise? Dad would always take the butt of the loaf, insisting it was his favorite part and Grandma would always offer to take out a new loaf just for him. He would wave her away with his hand and mom would give me a quick look that said, ‘enough of saying, butt over and over.’  

Who can argue with my effort to bring back the good stuff when, right there, while eating our recommended daily allowance of SPAM,  we are free from the fear of cholesteralling the entire nation via canned meat?  Grandma served up this delicious treat, in all its glory, the flexible food, good whether served hot or cold.  But we never had it at home.  It was only for late nights at Grandma’s table.

This was a loving routine that showed me the exit from the orderliness of Grandma’s house,  the end of a satisfying day of play with young cousins all growing up together one Saturday at a time.  This subtle SPAM signal,  the one that meant it was time to go home, was a peaceful way to end to an afternoon of competitive sheepshead or schmear, a silence to the sharp rap of the knuckles to play a saved trump card, an end to the whoops of bids met and the lamentations of a trick lost. 

In my present day SPAM experiment, my kids wisely reject it for texture, for color, for the idea itself.  They somehow resist fighting over the jelly I realize.  And it seems to me there is less of it than I remembered coveting as a girl.  The pull top of the newly designed can takes all the risk out of sharing the opening, all the danger and anticipation disappear without the key and it’s curl of metal.  

I’m always learning, always catching myself setting up my children for these memory jogger moments, struggling to accept that no one meal can measure up to memories of grandmothers or the sweet tastes of childhood that I have walking around in the pantry of my mind. 

### by child grower Annita Woz

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2 Responses

  1. I’ll have to share this with my mom, she also has fond memories of spam, and probably still eats it occasionally.

    • I admit, I tried it in a salad that someone made about 10 years ago and it was just awful…but I still have the good memories that make me want to eat it..

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