Monday, October 24, 2005

Childhood Food Meme

Mona tagged me for this a few weeks ago. I am kind of unskilled at the blog-tagging thing, so am just going to suggest, mildly, to Ms. Yum!, Ms. Reverse Migration, and Ms. Good on Paper that they do this next.

As far as I can tell, this meme involves sharing five of your most vivid food memories from childhood. I already mentioned a couple in one of my first blog entries here -- the peanut butter cookie problem and the Orange Julius experiments, as well as the cooking lessons learned from the humble Bachelor Special -- but here are a few more.

1. Fad Foods at St. Mary of the Valley Grade School

I was in elementary school in the early 1980s in Beaverton, Oregon, wearing a uniform at an all-girls' Catholic school. We had very little opportunity for expressing ourselves and our rapt attunement to the latest trends in music and clothing, so the way we one-upped each other was through our lunches. One could buy hot lunch in the cafeteria, as I did for the most part in grades 1-3, and sit under the watchful eyes of Sisters Consolata and Rose Dolores, who played good cop/bad cop with table manners and monitored our food consumption. (For example, we were not allowed to save our milk for one big gulp at the end of the meal -- we had to take a sip of milk for every three mouthfuls of food. Did anyone else learn that???) Or one could bring one's own "cold lunch" (aka bag lunch) and eat it in the auditorium, under the less-than-watchful eye of the much-beloved Sister Agnes Marie. It was there, in the auditorium, that I learned how girls become popular and unpopular.

Here were the popular (aka rich) girls' foods:

- Handi-Snacks (those little packages with congealed Cheez Whiz on one side, three saltines on the other, and a little red rectangular spreader)
- Fun Fruits and/or Fruit Roll-Ups
- little bottles of Original New York Seltzer in various flavors
- chewy granola bars
- Capri Sun
- Yoplait yogurt, especially "custard style"
- those tiny 6-ounce cans of New Coke

Here were the unpopular girls' lunches:

- anything homemade
- especially homemade tuna fish sandwiches and applesauces
- Western Family yogurt with fruit on the bottom
- crunchy granola bars
- real live unprocessed fruit
- milk
- anything ethnic, like Asian salty dried plums, which were a revelation to me the first time my friend Anh gave me one

2. Capri Sun

Speaking of Capri Sun, my sister and I used to spend summers at my aunt Madge's house in Palos Verdes, CA. Madge had a pool, a very big yard, and two sons (our cousins) who loved to play with video cameras. Somehow -- lord only knows how -- my sister and I got the idea to write an advertising jingle about Capri Sun, choreograph a little dance to the song, dress up in bizarre outfits, and have Matt and Rob videotape us near the pool acting out our ad. This we would send along to the makers of Capri Sun, who would surely love it, put us on TV, and we would make millions. (This is a bit of a pattern for Jesse and me. We continue to imagine ourselves this fabulous undiscovered Dynamic Sibling Duo and believe very strongly that someone is going to come along and pay us a lot of money for something that we dream up.)

Anyway, the song went:

Capri Sun, Capri Sun
Capri Sun is for me
I drink it while I'm walking by the sea
Listen to the octopus!

(One of us gets into the octopus-shaped pool floatie and sings in a deeper voice:)
Capri Sun, Capri Sun
Capri Sun is for me
I drink it while I'm swimming in the sea
Listen to the lady!

(One of us puts on a fancy sun hat and big sunglasses and parades around the pool singing in a sultry voice:)

Actually I forget what she sings next. But there were countless other characters, involving several other voices and costume changes, and at the end of the ad one of us invariably was either pushed or jumped into the pool. The goal was always to end up in the pool, preferably fully clothed.

3. Split Pea Soup

My mom never worked while my sister and I were little, but once she got sick and needed to go to the hospital for her treatments, Jesse and I would often get dropped at this awful daycare called Busy Bees on Allen Boulevard in Beaverton. It was just dreadful. I loved school, but I loathed day care. It smelled awful, the other kids were always sticky, and because my sister and I didn't go every day, we didn't really have any friends there.

The last time I ever had to go to Busy Bees, we arrived in the morning and my mom promised she'd be back before lunch -- not that she ever had much control over when she could return. Morning snack came and went (orange slices, which I still do not like) and soon it was time for lunch. The daycare smelled even more revolting than usual and I could not imagine what it was that we would soon be served. The answer: split pea soup. In styrofoam cups, so we had to drink it. To me, it was the color and smell of all that was evil in the world. But it was served with this fabulous and amazing homemade bread, warm from the oven, squishy and yeasty. We all sat down at this very low table while the day care ladies rushed all around us, serving us the soup, wiping kids' noses, yelling at kids to quit yelling. It was chaos, but I still evidently caught the eye of one of the more watchful ladies who saw me eating the bread and nothing else. I was reaching for my second piece of bread when she cut me off and said, "You may have another piece of bread as soon as you finish your soup." My heart sank and I probably would have started to cry had I not been one of the oldest children there. I looked at the soup in the cup, plugged my nose, and started drinking it. After the first gulp I gagged, but kept it down. I glugged the rest of it down as fast as I could, turned to show the lady (now distracted by someone else) my empty cup, and saw, to my horror, that my mom had just arrived and was holding Jesse's and my coats up for us to put on. I knew I wouldn't be allowed to take another piece of bread with me to go. It was my first experience with a kind of bait-and-switch, one that I remember as vividly as if it had happened this morning.

Surprisingly, I now love split pea soup. It didn't scar me for life.

4. Ice Cream Truck

Until I was 6 or 7, I lived on a cul-de-sac that saw very, very little traffic -- at that time, Aloha was the very edge of the Portland-suburb frontier, and the road my cul-de-sac split off from was basically a farm road leading to orchards of all kinds. The lady who lived behind our house, an old, sweet, grandmotherly woman named Emma, owned several acres of a filbert orchard, and we had two huge filbert trees in our backyard (which my dad hated because the fallen nuts got stuck in the lawnmower) as well as an enormous plum tree in the front. There were a couple of other kids in the cul-de-sac as well -- two sisters named Kamela and Carissa, as well as an older boy and girl whose names I don't remember.

For an ice cream truck to actually enter our cul-de-sac was a very rare occurence indeed. On the occasion that this one entered, there was much rejoicing, and it parked itself RIGHT NEXT TO MY HOUSE, literally against the curb, but -- and this is important -- with its window of delights facing the street, rather than the sidewalk.

It was summer and all the kids were outside, and ran over to the ice cream truck. Even Emma crossed over her field and came up to the truck on the other side of her small chickenwire fence. I had on a pair of rollerskates, and was under STRICT orders not to set one toe -- not one wheel -- into the street. Sidewalks and driveways were fine, but I was not allowed to even consider skating on blacktop. All of the other kids gathered around the ice cream truck window and started calling out their orders, while I stood in my driveway watching them, paralyzed, unable to even see the offerings. Finally Emma called my name and asked me what I wanted -- her treat. I told her that I couldn't get anything because I wasn't allowed in the street. Bear in mind that the street here was a dead-end offshoot of a cul-de-sac -- the only cars that would have come by were my parents' or the across-the-street neighbors'. The other kids looked at me incredulously. "But you won't actually be in the street," one said. Emma said, "But I'm watching you, and I won't let you get hit by a car." I would not budge! I just would not.

At last Emma handed one of the kids some money and told them to tell me what my choices were, buy me the ice cream, and bring it to me in the driveway. I ended up with some kind of delicious blue sherbet pop in the shape of Cookie Monster. I went inside to show my mom and promised her over and over again that I hadn't gone in the street to get it. She laughed and said, "But wasn't Emma there? You can go in the street if Emma's watching you."

After that incident, two things: 1. all the kids in the neighborhood thought I was weird, and 2. I retain an exquisite sense of kid logic and viscerally understand their frustration when they learn that there are exceptions to rules that they didn't know about. I was told NOT TO GO IN THE STREET under anycircumstances, not NOT TO GO IN THE STREET unless there is an ice cream truck parked there and Emma is watching me! God!

5. Cracklin' Oat Bran

Lastly, something less long-winded. Like many products of hippie and/or nutritionally-obsessed parents, I was never allowed to have sugar cereal when I was little. Raisin Bran was as exciting as it got in my house. One day, I was spending the night over at my friend Matt's house (Matt's mom and my mom were best friends, and Matt and I were born 6 weeks apart). Matt's mom, Mary, was a nurse and also a health nut, but somehow she was more lenient on the cereal front than my mom. And so it was in her house that I first tasted the Best Cereal In The Entire World: Cracklin' Oat Bran. It looked just like the little food pellets that we fed to the giraffes at the zoo, but tasted like Halloween a thousand times over. I had no idea cereal could taste like that. It was life-altering. I still never buy it for myself, because it always seems overpriced, but on the rare occasion that I do get to have a bowl of it, at a friend's house or something, the fleeting taste of cereal perfection comes flooding back.

All right, ladies. Your turn.


At 1:44 PM, Blogger Mona said...

*Mrs.D, What a great meme, and you put so much time into it. I love the poor girls snacks vs. the rich girls (brats?) snacks :) And totally agree on the homemade thing. Why back then was I always dumping the homemade sandwiches in the trash b/c it was the cool thing to do!? I wish today at work I still had mom's "homemade" sandwiches :)
And that Capri Sun song? GREAT!
I lived in the boondocks and there were definitely NO ice cream trucks in site, for probably a 10-mile radius. But we had one that came to our middle school after class was over and there would definitely be a scramble to get the best treats and best sitings of the 8th grade boys.

At 10:17 PM, Blogger Abigail said...

I assume you will be singing for me the Capri Sun song soon? This is VERY IMPORTANT.


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