Friday, January 9, 2009

Tongue Sandwiches

Pierre once remarked that I had had a 'semi-traumatic' childhood after I told a story about one of Lynda's more eccentric moments when I was growing up.

It's safe to say that this is an exaggeration, for as I've said, Lynda's denial notwithstanding, I had what I considered to be a good childhood. However, like most legends and myths, in fact there is but a kernel of truth to it, and proof of this hidden seed was brought to light by a recent conversation with a long lost friend.

Thanks to the miracle of the internet, someone I haven't seen for more than forty years looked me up and made a comment on this very journal last week. A classmate of mine in elementary school found and read the entry on 304 Grape, and it brought him to recall our time together and make even make a comment. Interestingly, one of the things that he remembered about me--other than my name--had to do not with my personality but the content of my sack lunches. Specifically, tongue sandwiches.

Now I had not fully erased the childhood memory of seeing the gruesome sight of a severed cow's tongue resting on a plate front and center in the refrigerator, but I had managed to repress the image until reminded of it. It's not as if the sight made me sick, since if anything was going to do that it would be eating it, and in fact I ate it on more than one occasion not only without getting sick, but finishing what I'd been served, which as all children in our household learned, was the key to getting along with Lynda in general and being excused from the table in particular.

Fortunately tongue was not often served in our house, at least not as a dinner item. It was always served cold, thinly sliced on bread with either mustard or mayonnaise, and thus it made it into my lunch sack and into the memory of at least one other grossed out ten year old at my lunch table. After all, it was the pity he had for me, being forced to consume this unthinkable substance in a sandwich at school. No one would trade for that!

To be honest, I really don't recall the taste, but I can never forget the texture of cow's tongue. I suppose that if ever I am forced to eat a piece of wet leather that has been roughed up, boiled and sliced no thinner than a potpourri wood chip, I will again know the pleasure of eating cow's tongue--at least the way my Mother prepared it. To say the least, it was tough and rough, literally.

You know those bumps you have on your tongue that help you taste? Well, cow's have them too, of course. But when the tongue is dead and cut out of the head for our dining pleasure, all those little taste buds get all hard and almost bony, making for some interesting and challenging mastication, to say the least. Now, if for some reason the taste of this wonder meat was in some way out of proportion with the rather unpleasant texture, that is, if it tasted good, why I could defend not only the presence of cow's tongue in our refrigerator and in the sandwich in my sack lunch. Alas, there was no such trade-off. In fact, there was only the inedible and untradable main course that I would jettison without regret other than having had endure the jibes and gags of my fellow diners.

The fact that I was also required to take my lunch in a sack, as opposed to a lunchbox only added to the humility of the lunchtime experience, and if it seems that I am making more of this than sense requires, recall that it I did say that my childhood was only 'semi-traumatic'. It is indeed silly for me to complain about something so trivial as being forced to take tongue sandwiches to school in my sack lunch, especially these days when there is so much abuse and neglect and real strife for children to overcome when growing up. Yet lives are built round little more than the trivial, and when inserted into our own little drama, lost or hidden details manage to emerge and take on a significance that we could never have imagined while living them.

Such is the power of memory and the desire to have overcome adversity, even if it is imagined. Fortunately I didn't live through the Great Depression, but thanks to Lynda, I have my own memories of sack-lunch suffering and have even perhaps benefited from a bit of moderate culinary experimentation.


Anonymous said...

that rivals the baby-octopus/squid- cooked-in-it's-own-ink pasta i ate as a kid.... although i did have tongue on several occasions, too. i enjoyed it, which might give you a clue into my personality...

Greyghost said...

Mmmmm....I didn't get to enjoy that delicacy till I was in my twenties and had the pleasure of eating it in a little seaside village on the Portuguese coast. Even then I thought it was a bit daring. I'd certainly have never eaten it at home, even if Lynda had served it, which gives you a similar clue into my personality!

It is a wonder I became the 'foodie' I am today!

d2 said...

I remember those tongue sandwiches! Of course, what you don't remember are the culinary delights Dad subjected us to in England, where offal (awful?) is de rigeur. Brains, sweetbreads, tripe and other left over bits of cow, lamb, pig and goodness knows what other animals were eaten at the table in Bedford. Of course, this was all while you whiled away your tastebuds (those little bumpy things on your and a cow's tongue) on French cuisine, I'm sure...

Bitter is one of those five tastes, right?