The other day i stopped at the deli counter. I ordered, “one pound of sliced peppered turkey breast please.”
Deli meats, or “cold cuts” as my Italian father calls them, they are a treat for me, even today at 35 years old i can’t seem to get past the mouth watering, highly aromatic smell of sliced meat. I look with envy at peoples deli sandwiches as if they are some sort of novel idea. I don’t always buy them, but in some mystical way they seem to make lunch a little more lunchy.
As a kid whose parents were divorced and whose single mother was unemployed , cold cuts didn’t exactly make the grocery list. The man at the counter said,
“excuse me ma’am, I’m taking a few dollars off the weight price because i opened a new package and the ends are in there with your turkey.”
i smiled politely,
“OK thanks”. maybe i looked a little clueless.
he talked a little slower and louder ” the ends of the turkey…i’m not charging you for them. You have any dogs or cats at home, the animals love em’ they’re great to give to the dogs.”
just around the time i was thinking to myself, ‘why on earth would i give them to the dog’ suddenly i got it, suddenly it occurred to me what he was saying. I, in some strange way felt as if i had just come over from occupied Germany in the bottom of a banana boat to a free country where they didn’t charge for things like deli meat ends and i could walk freely in the streets without fear and i had a right to education just like everyone else. As he spoke i received a mental image, more like a memory.
“oh yes, yes, we used to buy those pre-packaged when i was a kid. thank you that’s great.”
“sure, sure yeah of course you did, I’m not surprised animals love em. good scraps.”
i smiled again, knowing even this older man didn’t get what i was saying. Which was they weren’t for our dogs. i just smiled and took the meat,
I remember the green Styrofoam tray, the clear plastic wrapper bunched up at the bottom, marked .97 cents. The end pieces browned with skin and slightly rounded on one side. Turkey, ham, roast beef whatever they had for 97 cents we bought it. I didn’t realize then they were unwanted. We would put them in between two pieces of bread like a real sandwich with loads of mustard. We couldn’t afford a whole pound of sliced turkey. Although occasionally we bought Oscar Meyer bologna. But what occurred to me in that moment that had never occurred to me ever during after or since is that they were undesirable scraps. there’s a story recorded in the gospels , a gentile woman approached Jesus and said, ” Heal my daughter.” his response, was,
“no i came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and it’s not right to throw the children’s food to the dogs.” her response unashamed was,
“but even the dogs feed on the scraps that the children drop beneath the tables.” Jesus marveled at her faith and healed her daughter, but he also called her in no uncertain terms an unworthy dog. For some reason that story came to mind yesterday.
it gave me some sort of perspective on life. something clicked am I insensitive to what I consider minor grievances? do I have low self esteem because what others gave to their dogs was a staple in our fridge. I remember so clearly reaching for those end pieces in the fridge, tearing open the plastic and sinking my teeth into a thick salty piece of cold turkey. i remember the tough outer skin that gathered like a little rectum on one end. I remember always going back for more and seeing little teeth marks from where I had bit before. I also remember scraping the bottom of mom’s purse for enough change to buy a bag of potato chips at lunch. Looking longingly at fresh white bulky rolls pressed between the fingers of those who didn’t have to pay for food in pennies. oozing mayo, thin pink slices of turkey hugging white cheese. the mouths that enjoyed those sandwiches were totally ignorant of hunger. the sounds of paper bags un-crumpling revealed packaged cookies ,juice boxes with little straws, and an apple or a cheese stick. Slowly, they would take out each item and lay it on a folded napkin, unaware of a grumbling belly, talking with a neighbor about a class or a grade or studying things that really didn’t matter to me when i hadn’t eaten since the night before. I might have heard a voice occasionally of a friend “where’s your lunch? you don’t’ have a lunch again?” the hot shame of accepting an extra orange they didn’t want, or a few chips left over in a Frito bag. i never really got what they were talking about. I just wanted food! i didn’t seem to laugh as easily, and being silly didn’t come natural to me. i faked it, which is exactly why i never kept in touch with those friends.
I just couldn’t keep up the façade of caring about the things they cared about, when I had things to think about like divorced parents, and having no lunch. a friend of mine was complaining of how her 11 year old son didn’t inside out a clean shirt before folding it.
I can see her now, ” …and he put it in the draw that way!” her voice raised in excitement her head and upper body thrust forward as if it was a really funny punchline, and i should burst out in laughter. I sat there looking at her trying to force a smile. I tried faking it, but inside i’m thinking to myself , ‘yeah so! i do that every day.’
i couldn’t quite understand what the point was, what’s the big deal. World hunger is at an all time high, people are living on the streets, losing their jobs, their homes, children dying and abandoned, or shot in their own schools, drugs are taking over our youth and war is breaking out in other countries as we speak and i’m supposed to care that your son doesn’t inside out his clothes before folding them and putting them away! are you kidding me? growing up , we regularly used socks as a substitute when we ran out of toilet paper. laundry just isn’t that important to me. I can’t relate to the inside out thing, or the scraps for dogs thing. does that mean I’m not a child, or that I’m not a lost sheep? i don’t’ know what it means
i just hope and i pray that Jesus throws me some crumbs too, because even the dogs need to eat.