“The worst thing,” I told my mother, “was when you made us eat venison sausages for lunch. That sausage lasted forever.”
I am visiting my parents, and we somehow got to discussing our less-than-favorite foods. My mother always made wonderful school lunches with fresh fruit and a homemade cookie. But memory is fickle. What I remember most clearly was when my father brought home from work what seemed to me, as an elementary-school-age kid, a venison sausage the size of a baseball bat, and I had to eat sandwiches made from it—forever, as I recall.
“That was not the worst thing,” my father said.
“No, you’re right,” I agreed. “The worst thing was when you made tongue sandwiches. I didn’t eat those.”
“When did I make you a tongue sandwich?” my mother asked.
“You made it for my lunch.”
“How did you know it was tongue?” she asked.
“It had bumps,” I told her, suddenly reliving the experience.
“It couldn’t have had many bumps,” my mother said.
“How many bumps do you think it needs for an 8-year-old to refuse to eat it?” I asked.
My mother laughed. She’s not a fan of tongue, either.
We were talking after dinner. My husband, Peter, and I were visiting my parents in their home “up north.” We were having my mother’s pumpkin bars for dessert and talking about old times and relatives I barely remembered — if at all.
I knew my mother’s father had a brother named Evald, and I knew they used to go fishing. I remember my grandmother saying that grandpa was not going up north to fish but to drink beer with Evald. I figured with 11 kids to raise and 50 cows to milk, drinking a little beer with Evald once a year wasn’t the worst thing a guy could do.
“I’ve never seen the house you lived in when you were little,” I told my mom.
“It’s in kind of sad shape, last I saw,” she told me. “But it’s still there. You need a tour.”
“I do,” I agreed.
Memory is a funny thing. It seems to disappear completely, then slaps us with vivid clarity — like an image of the bumps on a tongue sandwich eaten (or not eaten) 50 years ago.
I’m going to take a tour of the house my mother and her siblings grew up in the next chance I get. Even if the old farmhouse isn’t looking as fine as it used to — even if it’s been empty for a long time. I’d like to hear what memories my mom has when she sees it again and try to imagine some of the things that are now barely remembered.
“That was not the worst thing,” my father said again. “We didn’t make you eat the worst thing.”
“What was the worst thing?” I asked him, trying to think what could be worse than a tongue sandwich in elementary school.
“You remember what your Uncle Evald gave us?” my dad asked my mom.
“No,” my mother said.
Uncle Evald lived off the land, up in the north woods, occasionally driving a school bus, from what my mother said.
“It was canned bear meat. In a jar. The fat had separated from the rest of it.”
“I don’t think I ever saw that,” my mother said.
“That wasn’t the worst of it,” my dad continued. “There was hair in the jar.”
“No,” my mother said.
“There was,” my dad said. “So, it could have been worse than venison sausage for lunch.”