Friday, December 2, 2011
Tomato Paste in My Lunchbox
My mother put tomato paste in my lunchbox by mistake. I was in third grade. As I reached into my red lunchbox for my can of what was supposed to be pineapple juice, I put up my hand so the roving lunch lady could come to me and punch those two triangular holes in my juice can, with the can opener she wore on a string around her neck. As she bore down on me, I saw to my horror that the oddly heavy can in my hand, identical in dimensions to the juice cans of the era, was in fact a can of tomato paste.
I yanked my hand down and bent over my lunchbox, thrusting the erroneous cylinder of tomato paste deep into the wrappings of my peanut butter sandwich, hoping nobody had glimpsed this embarrassing artifact of my mother's fogginess. The lunch lady crossly demanded, "Who had a hand up here? There was a hand up?" I kept my head down in anxious contemplation of my pleated skirt until she gave up and stomped away.
Sometimes my sandwiches were on bread that was blue with mold, or were made with irridescent ham. I was used to pretending to eat those sandwiches. The tomato paste was worse. I felt let down in some new way.
That was nearly fifty years ago.
How I wish certain experiences around the publication of my newest book did not make me think of that can of tomato paste, and the shame of feeling that all the other kids have nice lunches while I have to pretend to have a nice lunch and hope that nobody notices the difference.