I believe that love is a sandwich.
I believe that when I am packing my kids’ lunches in the morning I am packing up little bundles of love and home, folded up in waxed paper, tucked into containers or baggies: a sandwich, a tub of fresh applesauce, some cherry tomatoes, two cookies, a hug. I believe that when they open their lunch boxes in their noisy, smelly school cafeterias they will have a whiff of home, of Mom and Dad, of the garden, dinner around the table, the chickens running around the front door.
When the kids get off the bus in the afternoon, Daddy is waiting, the dog comes barrelling down the driveway, two rabbits run up from under the shed and the oxen moo. The whole place is happy they’re home. When they catch the bus in the morning, they go with goodbye kisses, and lunch boxes filled with home.
When I am folding sandwiches or muffins or scones into waxed paper, I remember my friend Fran’s mother, Helen. In junior high, long after my mother had stopped packing lunch, Fran would open her paper bag filled with little parcels: a piece of cheese, some celery sticks, nuts and raisins. I liked inspecting her lunch, and marveling over Helen’s thoroughness: protein, vegetable, fruit and a treat. And over her frugality: waxed paper cut to size, the paper bag reused each day until it wore out.
One day there was no packet of nuts and raisins, and I put a note in the bag for Helen to find: “Why is there no treat in Fran’s lunch today?”
The next day, and every day until the end of the school year, Helen packed two treats, one for Fran and one for me. She worried that I was skipping lunch. She worried more that no one was looking out for me. It was a small token she sent me, every day, to make sure I was loved.
When Fran’s mother was dying last year, she decided to stop eating. It was a plan she had come up with years before, that when it was her time she would just stop. She got weaker, slowly, and her children and grandchildren sat with her. Fran told her how I think about her every time I pack a school lunch.
Thinking about food is something we do in my family. We count our riches in the composting manure our oxen provide. That richness goes into the garden, and over the years has turned the soil from sand to black, rich loam. The pumpkins, tomatoes, broccoli, onions and potatoes that grow in that loam glow with life and nutrients, dark orange, red, green and yellow. The food comes into the kitchen and goes into soups and salads, breads and pies, on the dinner table, in the freezer, in our lunch boxes. We grow, we cook, we eat. We call it love.
On her last day, Helen lay in bed, asleep or unconscious. Fran’s brother had been there through the night, but Helen was waiting for Fran. And when Fran sat down beside her, Helen opened her eyes, grabbed Fran’s hand, pulled it to her lips and kissed it. Then she lay back down and died.
There was no time to make lunch. But she got to kiss her girl goodbye.
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