Dan Conradt: Bologna sandwich offers a slice of home
It was the best bologna sandwich I’d ever had, and I’d had a lot of them.
Once when Mom got mad at me, she said, “Dan, I’ve told you a million times … stop fighting with your brothers!” so I knew a million was a lot. And I was pretty sure I’d eaten about a million bologna sandwiches.
This was the best one ever.
The recipe hadn’t changed … a slice of bologna between two pieces of Wonder bread, one of them coated liberally with butter. Nothing frilly such as cheese or mustard or lettuce. Just bologna, bread and butter. But this sandwich had been cut diagonally, and Mom never cut sandwiches diagonally. Fancy people cut their sandwiches diagonally, and we weren’t fancy people.
Man, this was a good sandwich.
“Can I bring lunch from home this year?” I’d asked during the weekend.
Mom didn’t look up from her ironing: “Why can’t you eat lunch at school?”
“I don’t like school lunch,” I said. It wasn’t exactly true. In fact, it wasn’t remotely true. It had taken me most of first grade to get over the fear of being away from home for an entire day, but those fears had returned on the eve of second grade. I was hoping carrying my own lunch would be like having a taste of home every day at school.
I suspect Mom knew the real reason.
“I packed your lunch,” she said on the morning I officially became a second grader.
“What is it?”
“It’s a surprise,” she said. “Your new shoes look nice. How do they feel?”
“Good! They’re all broke in!” I fibbed. Mom had suggested I wear my new shoes a couple of times before school started so I could get used to them. I told her I would but never did; I didn’t want to scuff that “fresh from J. C. Penney” shine before the first day of school.
“Listen to the teacher,” she said as I stood at the kitchen door. “Learn a lot.”
She leaned down, and I gave her a kiss on the cheek. She smelled like talcum powder and Ben-Gay.
I ran all the way to school. By the time I got there, my new shoes were scuffed, and my feet were killing me. Kickball at recess did not go well, and by lunchtime, my feet couldn’t decide between “throbbing” and “numb.”
I’d found a seat in the corner of the lunch-room, under a picture of an old man with a white beard. His head was bowed, and his hands were clasped over a loaf of coarse brown bread
“What did you get?” my friend asked from across the table, holding up his own brown paper bag and nodding at mine.
“I don’t know,” I said. I unfolded the top of my lunch bag and peered inside.
My first impression was the bologna sandwich looked … different. Fancy!
I pulled it out of the bag and set in the middle of the table with a flourish, as if to say to my friend, “Check this out!”
“Wanna trade?” he asked, pulling items out of his bag and arranging them on the table. “Peanut butter …” He said it in a sing-songy way that was meant to sound tempting. It didn’t work. A bologna sandwich cut diagonally or a peanut butter sandwich cut … ho-hum … horizontally? Not even if he threw in that apple, which did look pretty good …
I reached in for another cellophane- wrapped parcel … carrot sticks!
In the bottom of the bag, a mug-sized thermos and a spoon.
I pulled them out and carefully removed the top from the thermos. My friend was leaning halfway across the table to see what was inside.
Fruit cocktail! And there, nestled in the syrup right on top, was half a bright red cherry. I mean, the fruit cocktail company includes, like, one cherry half in every can! Those cherries were responsible for many of the million fights I’d had with my brothers. And Mom included it in my lunch!
Suddenly, it felt like home.
“Wanna trade?” my friend asked, holding up his apple.
I shook my head and ate the cherry before he could sweeten the offer.
My feet didn’t hurt anymore, either.
I think second grade is going to be just fine.