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Childhood memories served up by a bologna sandwich

I realized immediately that Linda couldn’t understand why I was so grateful for what she called, “Just a half-pound of bologna.”

And I was reminded of the famous words of playwright Charles MacArthur when he presented Helen Hayes with a handful of peanuts and said, “I wish they were emeralds.”

Admittedly, bologna may not be an endangered species, but good bologna, cut by a butcher and found in a dwindling number of butcher shops, is not easy to find. Especially if you have relocated, as I have, to another state — and recently relinquished your car.

Linda is at the concierge desk at Cordia Senior Living, my new home in Michigan, and one recent afternoon, our conversation drifted into the realm of comfort food. I admitted that in times of total stress, I revert to childhood.

During the decades I lived in Massapequa, I would rush to Farmingdale Meat Market on Main Street and purchase a half-pound of hand-carved bologna.

Next I would visit the closest supermarket, Best Market in South Farmingdale, for a loaf of soft, squishy white bread, something rarely found in my cupboard, and then I would add a quart of whole milk to my supermarket wagon.

Supplies in hand, I would drive home and retreat to my kitchen, where I found utter comfort in a bologna sandwich on white bread accompanied by a tall glass of cold milk. Ambrosia!

Yesterday when I returned home after shopping, I found a note on my apartment door from Linda. It simply said, “Open your refrigerator.” And voilà! There was a brown paper package of bologna, hand-carved by a local butcher.

It sounds inane to be so thrilled with such seemingly ordinary food. Nevertheless, the simple combination of these three ingredients immediately returned me to a sunny morning in Central Park, not far from my childhood home in Hell’s Kitchen.

While my mother was not a “working mother,” the family responsibilities she bore certainly qualified her for the title. Her time alone with my sister and me was infrequent and memorable.

The day etched into my memory was a summer afternoon the three of us shared under a shady tree in the famed New York City wonderland. Mom had stopped along the trip at a delicatessen on 57th Street and 10th Avenue and at a local greengrocer, Fiorentino’s, to pick up the necessary ingredients for our picnic. Earlier in the day, the three of us had made a trip to the library for a book of poetry.

I don’t remember how long we sat under that tree with the bologna sandwich, a paper cup of milk and our mother reading to us, but the comforting memory has never dimmed.

As beauty really is in the eyes of the beholder, bologna will ever and always be a gourmet delicacy to my sister and me.

Anne Donlon Achenbach

Traverse City, Michigan

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