As a kid, I was never told “clean your plate” – there were no really solid rules about finishing every bit of food we were given in my house. We were fed, and when we felt we were done, we were done. I don’t recall ever being told to “eat it or else” – never smacked with the guilt of “all the starving children in Africa” or any of that. Food was served, and we ate it, without much concern for how much we finished. So it is a mystery to me why I felt that I had to hide the evidence of my dislike for sandwich crusts.
But hide it, I did.
My mom would fix me a sandwich – PB&J was the favorite, but every once in a while, bologna or cheese sandwiches were served – and I would eat it happily. I ate almost anything happily (although I nearly made my grandfather apoplectic in my refusal to eat gravy on my mashed potatoes – but that’s a story for another day). My mom is a pretty good cook, and the sandwiches she made never disappointed.
But I did not like the crusts. Well, more specifically, I did not like the bottom crusts – I ate the top and side crusts of the sandwiches with no complaint. But those bottom crusts were unpleasant to me. They were usually stiff and dry and rather cardboard-like in their texture, and I did not like to eat them.
I don’t remember ever asking my mom to trim the crusts off the bread. My own kids insist I do this before they’ll even consider eating any bread, and on the rare occasion I forget to trim the crust, one would think I had served them a dead rat on a stick, the way they freak out on me. But I can not recall ever asking to have the crust from my sandwiches removed.
So I would be given a sandwich and I would eat it happily – up until I got down to that stiff, dry, cardboard-y bottom crust. At that point, I had in my hand two pieces of dry bread with an adhesive layer of peanut butter holding them together. I could not eat them. They repulsed me.
But for some reason I don’t understand, I did not just take them back to my mom to dispose of them. And what’s even more bizarre – I did not just take them to the trash and dispose of them myself. Somehow, I believed returning to the kitchen with the crusts in hand would be trouble.
So I hid the crusts instead.
In the family room of the house I grew up in, there was a massive piece of furniture in the corner. This thing was huge, nearly floor-to-ceiling high, it seemed mountainous to me as a little boy. It was made of wood and was a deep brown, the wood stain so dark it seemed to remove light from the room. It had two long glass cabinet doors above two small wood cabinet doors below. In the center of the wood framing the glass doors was a brass key hole.
This giant piece of furniture was always referred to in our house as simply “The Gun Cabinet”.
My father kept hunting rifles in The Gun Cabinet, and that is all he kept in there, as far as I know. He was not a gun nut; not a rabid card-carrying NRA member; not a zombie-apocalypse survivor type; not a postal worker. He kept rifles for sane reasons: to stalk and shoot wild, harmless animals.
I don’t remember ever seeing The Gun Cabinet opened, and in fact, if I had I would likely have been surprised that it did. It was not used often. I never saw anyone put anything in it, or take anything out of it. And – most relevant to this story – I never saw anyone move it.
As long as I could remember, The Gun Cabinet never moved from the space in the corner. It sat there, a hulking sentinel in our family room, untouched, unmoving, year after year. It might as well have been built into the side of the house, for it never changed positions.
So it was understandable that, when I was looking for a place to hide the crusts of my sandwiches, I decided that the one- or two-inch space between The Gun Cabinet and the wall would be the most logical place.
I would eat my sandwich, get down to the stiff, dry, tasteless bottom crusts, and then I would casually saunter over to the corner of the family room where The Gun Cabinet stood as the silent arsenal in the War on Deer, and I would pitch the sandwich crust behind it.
Once it left my hand, it was in darkness, for The Gun Cabinet was so large that the space behind it was just a black void. The discarded crusts were literally out of sight, and thus, out of mind.
I hid sandwich crusts behind The Gun Cabinet for years.
How many years? I don’t know – not many. And not all of the crusts went there, I’m sure. If I were eating a sandwich outside, I might take the crust and feed it to birds, or pitch it into the creek to feed ducks or fish. But if I were indoors, eating it in the family room, and I didn’t want to be observed throwing the crust in the trash… behind The Gun Cabinet it went.
Eventually, I stopped doing this. I don’t know why I did, but somehow I just stopped tossing the crust behind furniture and would put them in the garbage like a normal person. I may have even started to eat them, I’m not sure. Maybe I grew up a bit. All I know is that, at some point, I did stop hiding the crusts behind The Gun Cabinet.
One day, I came home from school and walked into the family room to see a scene of chaos: the couch was on the opposite side of the room from where it used to be, chairs and end tables moved to new spaces, pictures removed from walls and set aside, and my mother was vacuuming the floor where the couch had been. Furniture polish and window cleaner were near the door.
My mother was re-arranging the family room. This was nothing new; she did this all the time. But something struck me as odd this time around. There was a space against the wall by the back door that had previously held pictures and a floor lamp – this space was now empty. It was a large space. It looked vacuumed and clean. It looked as though it was “prepared” for something.
I looked around the room. She looked like she was almost finished with the job of moving furniture. But that empty space by the back door… It looked ominous to me. It looked like trouble.
“How come this big space is empty?” I asked her.
My mom was preparing to hang a painting in a new location, and as she finished tapping the nail into the wall she turned to see what I was referring to. “Oh. The Gun Cabinet is gonna go there,” she said, and picked up the painting to hang on the newly inserted nail.
Memories flooded through my brain, pushed by the adrenaline every kid experiences when he realizes that he’s about to be busted. How many sandwich crusts were buried in that giant bread graveyard? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t think straight. Icy horror crept down my neck and into my chest, encasing my heart and seizing my lungs. I suddenly had to pee. I turned to flee, wondering if I could make the state line by nightfall.
I heard her call after me, “Tell your father to come in here, I need him to help me move this!”
Fat chance, I thought to myself as I ran. Why don’t I just put the knot in my own noose while I’m at it?
I escaped the house and got on my bike, pedaling furiously down the driveway without a thought of where I was going. In my head I clearly had a vision:
Mom hires movers to come and move The Gun Cabinet because Dad’s passed out and won’t help. The movers are wearing coveralls with the moving company’s logo on the back. One wears a baseball cap, the other is bald and fat. The one in the cap is missing teeth and the bald fat one has a cigar in his mouth and tawks lyke dis. Mom directs them to the corner where The Gun Cabinet sits – the bulky, silent observer of all my bread crimes. She tells them to “Move that over there” and points to where she wants it to go. The movers – Baseball Cap and Fat Cigar – bend their knees and lift with their legs as all good movers do, and they heave The Gun Cabinet out of its seemingly permanent space for the first time since Noah built the Ark. Dust descends as it must have when King Tut’s tomb was opened. As it clears away, the only thing I see is the look on my mother’s face when she sees the decayed sandwich corpses that were buried there, only now she is not my mother but instead Ms. Gulch from the Wizard of Oz, and Baseball Cap and Fat Cigar are the flying monkeys that do the bidding of the Wicked Witch, and my mom cackles to them: “Count them! Count how many crusts there are! He shall get a beating for every one of them! Find him! Find him!”
I returned home at some point, walked into the house, and I went straight to my room to hang out while awaiting my fate. At some point, when the flying monkeys failed to appear, nor the cops, nor the SWAT team, I went downstairs and when I entered the family room, it seemed like a new space. All cleaned, re-arranged – it was a big transformation.
And The Gun Cabinet now stood guard over the back door, which somehow seemed fitting. It would be very convenient when we needed to retreat through the back of the house to grab our ammo as we fled the Great Woodland Animal Uprising that was sure to come one day. The Gun Cabinet was dusted, the glass shiny and sparkling – and it was nearly flush with the wall. There was no space for anything behind it.
As it turned out, I don’t think anything was ever said about the sandwich crusts. I was never talked to, no beatings were received, not even a scolding, as I recall. Dinnertime came, and we ate, and nobody spoke of The Gun Cabinet or any sort of decomposed surprises of the day. It was never mentioned, then or ever. We tended to sweep a lot of stuff under the rug in that house.
Maybe that explains the whole sandwich crust thing.