– John Wayne Wiggins, Harley Allen, “Spread a Little Love Around”
He cooks for me and I cook for him. We gauge who is more fatigued without requiring a word between us and more often than not he is the one in the kitchen busying himself with pots and pans, humming a little or maybe whistling, and that in itself is a sense of family, a feeling of family, a sort of nourishment that I have missed.
And so there are soups and salads and multi-course meals, yet what elicits the most tender smile is, of all things, a sandwich.
For him, the preferred ingredients are these: a six-inch chunk of fresh French baguette, its outer crust crunchy to his bite, Genoa salami with Jarlsberg or Provolone (though he is equally pleased when there is herbed turkey breast and red leaf), and anything else discovered among the cold cuts. Critical, always, are spicy mustard and a thick layer of mayonnaise, both spread precisely to his liking, and naturally… with love.
My mother opens her Merriam Webster and zeroes in on a cryptic term well beyond grade level. She writes out the word and its pronunciation in black felt tip pen, and she includes the full text of its definition and even an illustration. She does this daily for years, on the brown paper bag that holds a sandwich and carrot sticks, or a sandwich and an apple. The surprise of the word is as tasty as what’s inside: Oscar Meyer bologna and Kraft American on white or wheat, or for a treat, peanut butter and jelly.
While Fluffernutters may be all the rage, but I prefer the classics: Skippy with Concord grape or better still, with strawberry preserves.
Despite our decades of differences, I look back and read the vocabulary of a mother’s love.
After years of making school lunches for children of my own, there is a second life or maybe a third, in a universe that has narrowed quickly and taken a reclusive turn. But there is a middle-aged man with a white truck and a gold tooth who knocks on my door every few weeks. He asks about the yard, having driven forty miles to a neighborhood where the likelihood of odd jobs remains high, even in recession.
He pulls ivy from the cracks in the worn red brick, he tears kudzu from a tangle of bushes, he mows in the front and then climbs onto the roof, blowing needles and scooping debris from the gutters. He gives me his best possible price for maintenance that I might otherwise be hard-pressed to afford, and he always tosses in an extra – sweeping the deck, trimming a hedge.
I pay him, I make him a sandwich, he thanks me and we say our goodbyes.
My elder son Skypes and describes the way he bikes from Geneva into France because it’s less expensive to buy groceries across the border. He selects his produce and his meat, cycles back in the cold to his apartment with a backpack full of supplies, and he cooks for himself from recipes he learns on the Internet. When he returns home after nine months overseas, he shows off his newly acquired culinary skills, with understandable pride.
That is after he asks that I prepare him “something American,” which, as it turns out, is a hamburger first and not long after, a sandwich. He is quite capable of whipping up both himself, yet the request is specifically of me – “because,” he explains, “it always tastes better when you make it.”
And over the years, if I’m under the weather or too preoccupied to eat, my boys work their magic in the same way for me: multigrain with ham or turkey, Muenster or Havarti, spinach and whatever else can be layered on, with a dash of Dijon and a hint of mayonnaise… this, an act of love, the sensation of love, the feeling of love that is so simple to give and gracious to accept – however sweet or savory.
Part of a series of essays, recipes, and tidbits on food and love in celebration of Valentine’s week, with thanks and appreciation to the busy writers who contributed. Please be sure to visit Rudri, Judith, Andrea, and Heather.
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