As I was making lunch for my husband and me this morning, a random memory popped into my head:
There was a time when my life, at times, seemed black and white. Literally. Lots of black and white. The Commissary, the military’s grocery store, used to stock generic brands. Super cheap, these products were usually packaged in the plainest, most boring packaging probably known to man. Black and White. “Sugar Cookies.” “Puffed Cheese.” These ridiculously boring products graced my home in every way possible, since my mother had six mouths to feed. I didn’t know the difference–it all tasted the same to me. Until my mother started shopping the case lot sales.
Once a year, the Commissary makes a big to-d0 about their Case Lot Sales. The parking lots are covered in giant white tents and boxes and flats are strewn everywhere. My mother would stock up on, gasp, name brand items! Wow, Fruit Loops! I was blinded by color. While the food generally didn’t taste much different in actuality, somehow the brand names and wild colors made the food taste better. This one time a year, we would see food enter our home that normally wouldn’t come in.
One year, when I was in middle school, my mother bought what seemed like hundreds of cases of bologna. Oscar Mayer. I don’t remember it coming into the house, but I remember it leaving. Very slowly. A few months after we bought the meat, we came up on orders to move. This was usually one of my favorite times. We were not only permitted but encouraged to eat whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted it. Cookies? Eat it–we can’t move with those! Beans? Make them for lunch because we need to get rid of them. The closer Moving Day became, the more of a smorgasbord dinner became. A table full of random, tasty morsels.
That year in middle school, though, we kids had forgotten about the bologna. We didn’t eat it for awhile. When it came moving time, Mom told us that, among other foods, the bologna had to be eaten. Before that time, I loved bologna. I enjoyed its taste and the sandwiches appealed to me.
We ate bologna for what seemed like months. Baked, fried, sandwiches, cut up into dishes. It never stopped. Just as we thought we’d finished off the last package, another would appear. Secretly, I thought they were multiplying in the basement or something. My mother, not one to throw anything away (something I’ve now taken from her), continued to insist it get eaten. I have vivid memories of gagging on it in unison with my five brothers and sisters. This just happened to occur every time my mother would enter the room, who reminded us that it wasn’t that bad. That, I believe, was the only time growing up that my mother used the starving children in China bit.
I will never forget when that last piece of bologna was eaten (after a brief, intense argument over who had to eat the piece of bologna) and the empty packaging was thrown away. We had eaten all the bologna. It was gone. We Smith kids still laugh about our Bologna exploits. While I can now stomach bologna again, it’s not my preferred deli meat by far. And don’t even think about frying it. Ew.