A magazine recently asked the question, “What is your favorite comfort food from childhood?” While many of you are conjuring up images of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, apple pie, or a gooey grilled cheese sandwich, the food that brought me comfort as a child probably won’t show up on a local menu any time soon.
My mother was a good cook, despite her frequent doubts, but the food she doled out to comfort my unhappy heart and quiet my whining wasn’t even cooked. I remember exactly how the tradition began. I was often underfoot, impatient for dinner, and wanting to “help” in the kitchen. Before I could really be of assistance I was actually a danger to myself and to her. Mom was always cutting, boiling, or frying something that I needed to stay away from. So she made me a little snack that I could carry to the living room or my room or even outside. A piece of Wonder bread spread with butter and sprinkled with sugar became my bribe, reward, after school snack, and favorite component of doll picnics and tea parties.
A “butter sugar sandwich” had to be made just so…not too much butter or it was greasy, not too much sugar or the extra fell out, and just one piece of bread, folded in half, because only that narrow creation could be held easily in one little hand.
I carried many a sandwich up a tree or out to the lawn or under a rainy day tent made from sheets. And I shared more than a few with dogs, cats, birds, squirrels, ducks and other fortunate creatures. Mom must have thought at times that I was wasting food, but she never scolded me for sharing. And like most kids I didn’t easily give up the good parts, but most often shared the crusts with my animal friends. Sometimes mom indulged my whims and cut one sandwich into tiny squares and triangles for my dolls to enjoy.
In the interest of honest reporting, I must admit that Wonder bread had one characteristic that only a child could really appreciate. It was as soft and pliable as any clay and could be mashed and molded and shaped almost as easily. So of course I liked to tear off the crust, throw it to the dog, and play with that white rectangle of possibilities...if I wasn’t too hungry. I liked to make little house shapes and once I formed a stick figure doll, but I usually just made simple shapes and balls.
My love of butter sugar sandwiches eventually transitioned to cinnamon toast, cookies, biscuits and jelly, peanut butter sandwiches and other things I had to later give up for the sake of a “healthy adult diet”. I haven’t purchased white bread in decades. Butter now graces an occasional slice of whole wheat toast, but the only sugar in my house is reserved for the hummingbirds. Such is life…
They say that as you get older you crave the best of your past so that you might once again enjoy the innocence and confidence of youth. I know that if I indulged in a little white folded sandwich right now I would be transported back to my mother’s kitchen where I thought that the world revolved around my needs and the adults in my life would always keep me safe.