I’m staring at a picture of my 3 year old grandson, Everett. He is comfortable on the couch. Nothing on but his Batman BVDs. Watching his favorite show on the tube.
If I watched TV in my Hanes my wife would disown me. Besides, I would be self-conscious with Max watching me with that what-in-the-name-of-Purina-Chow-are-you-doing look.
The reason I got the picture sent to me is that Everett is eating a ham & cheese sandwich. The text reads, “A man and his ham & cheese.” Which is a nod of respect toward my affection for all things ham & cheese.
I couldn’t even begin to count all the ham & cheese sandwiches I have eaten in the last six decades. I got it honestly from my own Dad who took one in his lunch box almost every day for the 48 years he worked at Southern States Foundry.
While most everyone else was eating out of the lunch line in the Hampton Elementary Cafeteria, I was at my table with my GI Joe lunch box. I also had a GI Joe thermos held to one side by a spring loaded wire clip.
Most responsible kids were drinking out of milk cartons. I had Iced Tea. Sweet enough that I should have been in a diabetic coma by the time Miss Betty made us write our numbers in class after lunch. Tea straight from the gallon pickle jar that my Mama used for a tea jug. All great tea, even at the church pot luck, came out of gallon glass jars when I was a kid.
I loved drinking tea with my ham & cheese at lunch. I had crushed ice in there because we made our own at home. “What? Made your own you say?” That’s right.
Long before refrigerators had ice makers in the door, we had a hand crank ice crusher on the kitchen wall between the stove and the hot water heater. You open up one of those aluminum ice trays with the dividers that break the cubes apart when you pull up on the handle. You put a few cubes in the ice crusher and turn the crank.
It reminded me a little bit of a sausage grinder, or maybe a coffee grinder. Metal top end. Plastic cup on the bottom that twist-locked into place. I don’t know why crushed ice was always better than cubes, but it was and still is. Like the ice at Zaxby’s which reminds me of home.
If I had a nickel, I could get in line and get me one of those cardboard cups of vanilla ice cream that you eat with a wooden spoon. A man with a ham & cheese sandwich, sweet tea, and vanilla ice cream is a happy man.
I get kidded a lot for my obsession with ham & cheese sandwiches. A lot. The guys at work shake their heads.
“What you got for lunch today?” Like they don’t know. I just smile. Someone else pipes in, “Oh, you know that man has a ham & cheese.” Another, “He wouldn’t know what to do with a turkey sandwich.” My guys are real comedians.
My business partner, on the rare occasions that we take lunch break together, looks at me and says . . . he says this nearly every time, “Let me guess. Ham & cheese?” Like he’s got my number or something.
Even the folks in town know about this. I walk into Cook Brothers, my favorite garage. I’m there to do a little local business and what I get is the business. It’s like Eddie Haskel and the Beave. I walk in right after lunch and Steve starts in on me.
“I need a tire plugged.”
“Okay. I bet you had a ham & cheese for lunch, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. You want to fight about it. Can you plug my tire?”
I take all this to mean that my personal lunch habits are nearly famous. Anyone who has ever really known me knows that it’s a 99.9% sure bet that if I have a lunch box, there’s a ham & cheese sandwich in there. Once in a blue moon it might be a corned beef & cheese sandwich for a diversion. But as soon as the corned beef is gone, it’s ham & cheese all over again.
From first grade until now. Today, in fact. I figure I have almost single handedly helped keep the hog industry solvent. Ham & cheese is typically a M-F thing for me. Banana and peanut butter on Saturdays. Maybe Pork & Beans and Viennas if I feel like a hot dish on a cold day.
The way I figure it, there have been approximately 15,080 possible days in my life that might have been ham & cheese days. Take out 5% for holidays, vacations, and corn beef days; that leaves somewhere around 14,326 ham & cheese sandwiches since first grade.
If a 12 ounce pack of ham gives me 8 sandwiches on average, that would mean that I have eaten 1,343 lbs of ham in my life. The equivalent of 6.7 200lb hogs all by myself. If you add to that all the pork roast, Boston butts, BBQ, bacon – Oh Lawd don’t forget the bacon – pork chops, boneless tender loins and sausage that I’ve eaten . . . Well I’m surprised I don’t oink more than I do.
What I’m hearing is that Everett is hooked on ham & cheese. He can eat all of his supper and then finish it off with a ham & cheese. In fact, on Memorial Day at our house he did just that.
“You still hungry little buddy?”
“Well. What can I get for you? You want some cake?” He shakes his head. “Watermelon?” Double shake. “How ‘bout a ham & cheese sandwich?” Bingo. He smiles and nods almost violently.
The image of him sitting there in his underwear with a ham & cheese in hand nearly brings me to tears. “Gratified” doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling. He might have blonde hair, almost red. He might have his Dad’s eyes. He might love his Mama to the moon and back.
But he has definitely got just a little bit of my DNA flowing through those taste buds. All that ham & cheese was bound to show up down the line somewhere.
Thanks Everett. You make your Grandpa proud. And don’t forget, as long as you have a ham & cheese sandwich, you’ll never go hungry.