Cooking On A Budget: Earliest Food Memories: Tuna Salad Sandwich

Monday, November 7, 2011

Earliest Food Memories: Tuna Salad Sandwich

Whether I was told this story so many times, or had an out of body experience at the age of three, this vivid childhood memory is forever burned in my brain.  It is my very first food memory that took place back in 1957.  My parents rented one side of a duplex in Westbrook, Connecticut and an elderly woman named Mrs. Brooks occupied the other side.  Actually, she was probably the age I am now. Lord in Heaven!  But, at three years old anyone over 30 was grandmother material!

At any rate, just the smells coming from her kitchen was probably what enticed me; that, and an adventurous, if not curious nature to creep outside and peer into her screen door to see what tasty treat she was making on any given day.

I had often heard Mom on the phone asking her mom or sisters, “What’s cookin’?” – Today’s equivalent of “what’s up?”  So my screen door greeting of “whatsy cookin’ Missy Brooks” became the background to a story repeated several times throughout my life.

To my mothers’ chagrin, I would wander off and go visit Mrs. Brooks, who would invite me in to share lunch with her.  Not to mention the fact my Mother had lost track of me, she also had to face the fact that there I was sitting at Mrs. Brooks’ kitchen table happily chomping away at a tuna fish sandwich.  It just so happens that my mother could never get me to eat her tuna fish sandwiches.

Aside from my almost daily chats with Mrs. Brooks, she was also a trusted babysitter for my sister and me.  When my father was given the opportunity to move up in the ranks of the Connecticut State Police and promoted to Resident State Trooper, we moved away from Mrs. Brooks.

Mrs. Brooks still came to watch us for those evenings when my parents went out.  For reasons I can’t quite remember, she stopped babysitting us.  Perhaps it was the drive from Westbrook to Deep River and since my mother is no longer here that is left unanswered.  It was the last I would see of her.  However, to this day the memory of Mrs. Brooks – the way she looked, her kindness and the smells of her kitchen are as clear as a bell.

I told you that little story to tell you the next one. Please keep reading as this does tie in together.

I am not sure if it was our first or second Christmas in our new house in Deep River, but it is one I have never forgotten.  My parents had probably just put the finishing touches on the Christmas tree and wrapping of presents when I came down with a stomach virus.  Of course that meant hardly any sleep for either my parents or me.  My Sister, who was always an early riser, especially on Christmas mornings, would not have gotten much sleep either.

Hoping it might make me feel better and despite the lack of sleep, my parents agreed that we should gather together in the wee hours of the morning to see what presents were left by Santa.  I’m sure like most kids my list was probably long.  However, what I wanted most was a stove and refrigerator so I could play “kitchen”.

After opening the leopard luggage set, the dress up heels and other gifts, I was severely disappointed.  Santa had NOT brought me my kitchen set.  Not only was I stomach sick on Christmas but also I was distraught over not receiving the one gift I truly wanted!  In the same fashion as the boy in the movie A Christmas Story (who wanted a Red Rider B. B. Gun), my Dad said: “Oh, what’s this?  I think there’s one more present over here.”

To my utter delight, he and mom produced a pink aluminum stove and refrigerator set!  It was a beauty!  Bright pink with black knobs and handles and it went so well with the pots and pans set I had already opened.  As soon as I was well and the tree was taken down, my kitchen set took up residence in Moms’ kitchen so I could cook along with her.  I think that Christmas my sister had received a lovely cherry table with two chairs, a high chair and her beloved Chatty Cathy doll which also took their place in the kitchen.

We moved two more times after that Christmas and my pink kitchen set moved with us.  I got many years of use out of that set – that was back in the day when it was still okay to be a kid at 12 and 13 years old.  The last memory I have of it was that it had a few dents, and some rust due to my leaving it outside in the rain too many times.  Its’ final residence was in a shed on the property that we used as a playhouse – back in the town where I first met Mrs. Brooks.

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