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11.18.2013

THE DRIED BEEF DIARIES (an excerpt)


You would have thought growing up we were poor and destitute.  Now as an adult when I ask my mom about the “depression era” manner in which we lived she says, “Well, you know we didn’t have money when you were young.”  I get limited resources, but dried beef as a staple?  It was 1972 not 1860.

Some of you may be unfamiliar with the salty, thinly sliced cured meat lovingly called dried beef.  Its uses are several - please note I did not say many are the uses for dried beef.  My parents, believing without a doubt that we still lived pre icebox/refrigerator era, were great lovers of this dried and cured meat. 

I once asked my mom in my adult life -  this side of a world of dried beef - why they had so much dried beef around when I was a kid.  My mom replied, "Well, when we butchered a cow we had them put a lot of it into dried beef.  It was cheap and kept for a long time."  The only thing missing from us being pioneers was the hard tack.

You can imagine, if in the 1970's your parents are buying dried beef in bulk, what their stance was on buying your lunch at school or packing it.  It did not take me more than 2 days of bringing my packed lunch to school to realize I was in the minority.  Even more so when I removed my dried beef sandwich from its waxed paper baggie that had been neatly folded over at the top. 
 
I looked around that what other lunch packers were bringing to school; peanut butter and jelly, bologna, ham, Twinkies, chips, cookies.  Incredible bounty!  Then I looked back at my 2 pieces of bread that were only separated by a smattering of mayo and one thin, salty slice of dried beef.  With it was applesauce or an apple and maybe some carrots or celery.  I remember no processed anything or even homemade dessertish items in my lunch.  Ever! 

Soon I realized, after eating a dried beef sandwich every day for lunch since school had started that year, there was a sort of swap meet thing that went on during lunch.  Almost everyone and every lunch item was a free agent up for trade.  I thought to myself that I just couldn't bear to eat that mostly bread and salt sandwich one more day.   I too would try a trade. 

Making my offer to another kid at the lunch table I suggested a trade - my deliciously salty pioneerish mostly bread sandwich for oh I don't know, ANYTHING BUT a salty pioneerish mostly bread sandwich!  I put that sandwich in the best light possible as trades were occurring faster than I could market this sub par sandwich.  Nothing.  No one would trade.  When no trade could be had, I realized I had to come up with some other alternative to get out of eating that sandwich. 

In our cafeteria at lunch time was a teacher on duty who monitored both the behavior and the food consumption of the kids.  That day I knew I could no longer eat a dried beef sandwich which I had begun to refer to in my head as “salty gruel”.  After some thought, I decided starvation would be a better alternative which would, at the very least, permanently remove me from the possibility of ever having to eat another dried beef sandwich. 

How to get dismissed from the lunch lady and hide the fact that I did not eat my sandwich?  I would need to conceal it under my napkin and then quickly throw it away.  That too was risky though as Roscoe, the school janitor, usually stood near the lunch trash can and would police waste, telling kids to eat what was still on their plate.  I had once witnessed Roscoe scold a kid into eating something still on his tray before throwing it away. 

My caper almost complete, I walked to the trash can and smiled at Roscoe and threw my lunch trash away, including the sandwich wadded up in my napkin.  I hurriedly walked away trying to not look or act guilty, feeling as if I had done something and actually gotten by with it.  NO MORE DRIED BEEF SANDWICHES...HOORAY! 

My excitement was short lived as Rosco found the sandwich in the trash.  He, like the entire school, knew it was the Weldy kids and ONLY the Weldy kids who had dried beef sandwiches every day.  He came to talk to me about throwing my sandwich away.  I was scared and intimidated and confused over all the fuss given over a sandwich not being eaten, let alone a dried beef one.  I wondered as Roscoe talked if he could have eaten a dried beef sandwich daily since school had started.  As he scolded me for my waste, I just nodded my head in agreement and didn't say a word.  I would take the scolding over eating it.

I remained very thirsty for much of my elementary years.

2 comments:

  1. No wonder you're so damn thin, you pioneer you. MI

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    Replies
    1. LOL! I still don't eat Twinkies, nor dried beef:)

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