My daughter, within sight of fifteen, no longer trusts me to make her school sandwich. Halleluya! Well, yes, in a way. Making school sandwiches has long been the bane of my every week night – not quite grounds for moving back to the UK, where my kids were born, but near to it.
Decades ago now, my mother made me and my sisters school sandwiches every morning before school. Fritz and sauce, Vegemite, or cheese, inside thickly buttered wholemeal bread. I didn’t particularly like them. But nor did I dislike them. They were just what I had in my lunchbox when I clicked off the lid at midday.
Mum was raised on a sheep stud in the mid north of South Australia. Every year the stud would put on a Field Day, where farmers and buyers would gather together to discuss wool prices and sheep breeding. And every year my mother would make – for this and every other big event in our life – scores of chicken sandwiches.
First she would boil up a couple of chickens, and allow them to cool in the broth. Then she’d strip the flesh and everything else from the carcass, and make stock with the bones. Next, in with the minced chicken, she’d mix chopped parsley, cream, and salt and pepper. Then she’d fill the sandwiches till they were bulging before cutting them into triangles and laying them in long rows on trays, like great dividing ranges.
What’s not to like about chicken sandwiches? With hindsight, absolutely nothing. However when I was the age my daughter now is, I thought Mum’s chicken sandwiches were horrible. Why? Well, because in with the chicken flesh Mum would put everything except the bones – skin, gristle and fat. ‘Please’, I’d beg, ‘can’t you leave the yukky stuff out?’ ‘Don’t be silly’, she’d reply, ‘it’s all good for you’. And so, when everyone else was hopping into Mum’s chicken sandwiches, I hung back.
The other night, curious as to why my daughter didn’t want me to make her school sandwich, I pushed her a bit further. ‘Is it’, I asked her, ‘because I put rocket leaves in?’ ‘No’, she replied, ‘although I don’t really like rocket’. ‘Is it’, I asked, trying another tack, ‘because I put too much chicken in?’ ‘No’, she replied. ‘Well’, I went on, knowing I should stop, ‘what is it then?’ ‘It’s because you always put in the squishy bits of the chicken. And I hate that’.
How I wish Mum were alive to tell her this story. It’s just the kind of story she used to love hearing in our evening phone calls. Thirty years ago, there was I, the finicky teenager, fussing about Mum putting the skin into her chicken sandwiches. And here today is her finicky granddaughter, complaining about the squishy bits that I put in her school sandwich. I can almost hear Mum laughing.