I had a dream about a sandwich last night. A sandwich that I ate approximately 32 years ago. In a downtown park in Denver, outside of the Natural History Museum. Probably the best sandwich I ever had in my life. A perfectly perfect piece of edible art that will forever hold a place of honor in my mind. It could be probable that I remember that sandwich more than my own husband by the time I’m ninety. I can still smell it. Taste it. Feel it’s warmth in my hands. A sandwich that will never be recreated in the history of my life. Maybe…
Back in the long ago, I was mere wisp of a girl (in my mind at least) living in a smallish home with my parents and my six siblings. It was getting along to the time of the year when teachers across the country scrambled to find interesting things for their students to do during the last few weeks of the school year. Children swelled the attendance numbers of zoos and museums across the country—and my school was no exception. We were going to go the museum, we were going to see the stuffed native Colorado animals we had seen a gazillion times before, and we were going to go outside to eat our lunch in a van down by the river. Well, next to the pine trees that provided no shade, anyway.
I remember my class marching up the steps inside the museum (we couldn’t be trusted on the escalators) and then down the steps and then to the bathroom, and then to the special section of “Gems of the World.” This guy pushing that guy, chaperones constantly telling us to keep it down—it was a blast. But the best part for me was knowing that all of the insanity I was enduring was going to lead to lunch. And to my sandwich.
As much time as I have spent thinking about this I have concluded that I have no idea who made my sandwich that day. If I have to go by my life experiences as being the mother of a fifth grader presently, it’s a good chance that I probably would have starved if my mom hadn’t been the one putting my meal together. And not like the lunches I currently pack for my little bundle of love. We’re talking one sandwich, one badly plastic wrapped handful of generic potato chips, a couple of generic cookies and a drink. If I was lucky it was a Big K soda, if I wasn’t then it was a generic juice box. But no matter, that lunch was like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
On a recent trip to the museum with my little stinky face, I noticed that the same (yet highly evolved) museum that I used to go to had a state of the art area (okay, a room on the bottom floor with some cafeteria tables in it) for school groups. Lunches were gathered at the beginning of the day to be held in the room until it was time for students to eat. A sight that practically made me stop and stare. Because they sure as hell didn’t have that kind of set up back when I was visiting the museum as a kid.
We had to keep our food on the school bus that brought us in. The bus that was sitting next to the pine trees that didn’t provide any shade. The bus that was angled so perfectly to the sun that we could have made s’mores in our special bus oven. Sigh. Various facts that make me kind of angry right now, but were just par for the course back in the dark ages.
Soon, the time would come when we could escape the darkness of the museum and let off a little steam as we ate our traveling lunches. I remember feeling so happy that I was free and that I would be able to smash that square of deliciousness straight into my mouth. I rushed to the bus, grabbed the paper bag with my name written in bold black letters, and found my best people to sit with. I turned the bag over and watched my food tumble out onto the ground. Soda (yippee!), chips, and cookies fell out, only to be topped by my most beautiful sandwich.
As I unwrapped the sandwich I noticed that each piece of bread had a large oval shaped stain on it. The crust was incredibly dry and when I picked it up to take a bite but the middle was so squishy that I left actual fingerprints on the bread. It was a perfect balance of bread, mayonnaise and one piece of cheese. And that’s it. No terrible tomatoes or wimpy lettuce. No meat or anything else that would stand in the way of perfection. Bread, mayo and cheese. Sitting in the sun for three hours. Sweating in to its plastic cover like it was me after a two mile jog (which doesn’t happen very often, by the way). Hot and squishy and dry and stinky and…perfect. I ripped that baby and squished one half into a ball. Then I ate it. Mouth full and talking impossible. It was a spiritual moment, I kid you not.
Now that I’ve grown older and I have my own child to worry about when it comes to these matters, I wonder if my mom was just trying to kill me. Sure, it was a tasty sandwich, but she had to know that it was going to be festering the bus for a long time. That maybe putting mayo on it wasn’t the smartest thing she could have ever done. That peanut butter is also a good option for field trip lunches. All I know is that if she was trying to get rid of me, it didn’t work (obviously) and that sometimes I wish I could recreate what went down in my mouth that day. If wanting to purposely get food poisoning is wrong, then I don’t want to be right!
But not really. Sometime in the past I must have made the decision to not make the same kind of sandwich for my kid. Why? Because I love the little nerd and I don’t want to have to be responsible for him when he gets sick and pukes all over me. Of course, if I’m lucky he’ll just puke on his teacher. It may have been my most perfect sandwich ever, but it was never safe. That’s a fact. However, if I ever do let down my guard and make him a “special cheese field trip sandwich” it will be in a climate controlled box with some kind of cooling apparatus inside. I’m sure I’ll lose a pretty penny when those things never come back home, but that’s the decision that has been made.
Even though I was lucky and didn’t get sick that day, I really do remember everything about that sandwich. And now so do you. You know there was a cheese sandwich and that it fed me—in every way a person can be fed. It exists now, only in my memory. (Sorry about that. I just finished Titanic.) I’ll probably dream about it again tonight and someday, when I’m feeling a bit adventurous, I’ll make a cheese sandwich, wrap it up and put it out on the patio. But just for a little while…