It was the seventies and the height of bad food. A time when anything soft, soggy and squishy reigned. Insipid meatloaves, canned peas, goulash, Cheez Whiz, boxed macaroni and cheese, and that bane of my existence, mushy sandwiches on soft white bread. Reluctantly, I consumed one almost every day of my childhood: Peanut butter and jelly on squishy Wonder Bread lightly macerated with red Kool-aid from a leaky thermos, plopped into a metal Scooby-Doo lunch box. For me, the best part was the crust. Yes, I was that weird kid who liked the crust. Eventually, I omitted the jelly, though. Cold, gelatinous foods weren't appetizing to me.
The worst sandwiches, by far, were the ones my Dad used to slap together when there was nothing else to eat. After a few beers on Saturday night, Dad would stare into a fridge of unidentifiable leftovers and proclaim, There's plenty to eat in here! Then pull out a piece of petrified breakfast sausage, slap it between two pieces of moldy bread, dribble some watery ketchup on top and call it a meal. I gasped in revulsion.
Dad liked his sandwiches. They soaked up the alcohol and curbed the appetite. Olive Loaf and mustard were his favorite. But a greasy fried egg would do in a pinch, along with Tuna Salad (which always made the house smell like cat food) and sometimes pimento cheese. Most of the time Dad just scrounged around and made a sandwich out of whatever he could find. Sides, such as pickles and potato chips were a luxury. But I always liked the crunch that potato chips lent to a bologna sandwich.
For me, bread is the most important part of a sandwich.
And my mother was notorious for never tossing out old bread. Even after the entire loaf turned furry green, it still enjoyed a cozy place to thrive in our deserted kitchen cabinets.
Once, in the eleventh grade, I woke up in a panic, realizing that I had procrastinated and never did the required science experiment.
Quickly I rummaged through the kitchen cabinets and spied an entire loaf of penicillic Roman Meal. Perfect! When I handed my "experiement" over to my teacher, he smiled and stated aloud, Now that's a person who was planning ahead!!
That night, my mother chuckled when I told her the story about the bread.
By the time I graduated high school, I was sandwiched out, and the thought of a another squishy, soggy, thrown-together meal was more than I could bear. I was experiencing what I call PTSD: Post Traumatic Sandwich Disorder. And it was years before I could even look at another sandwich, let alone eat one.
Eventually, on a trip south, I discovered the Muffaletta with its spicy salami, tangy olive salad, and crusty bread. I never knew a sandwich could be so good. I couldn't get enough. Soon I was hanging out at cafes and deli's, bringing home different breads and fillings, trying to duplicate this extraordinary sandwich at home. It was then I realized, I was cured. No more PTSD. Muffaletta's are powerful medicine. And I now enjoy all types of sandwiches: Panini's, Ruebens, Submarines. Except, occasionally, when my husband makes a fried egg sandwich and slathers it with Miracle Whip. No amount of therapy is going to help me get over that one.