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miniStories: The Boy Who Did Not Like Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches

February 10, 2012

This piece first appeared at at mnartists.org as a part of their flash fiction competition, miniStories.  As they wrote with it’s publication, “This winning story written by Clarence White (selected by Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl) offers an understated but affecting little tale about the love between fathers and sons and the power of peanut butter and jelly.”  Thanks to mnartists.org and to 3-Minute Egg for recording the event publicizing the competition and publication series, attracting established, emerging and aspiring writers to create works no longer than 500 words. 3-Minute Egg captured some of the voices from the winners’ circle, reading their pieces in the lobby of the Ritz Theater.  See a video of the event HERE.

MiniStories: The Boy Who Did Not Like Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches

Who ever heard of a little boy who did not like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Or puppet shows, pepperoni pizza, the sandbox or the caramel part of a candied apple?

Peanut butter and jelly. It is, of course, the perfect breakfast food. I remember as a child listening to the episode of School House Rock that suggested:

Peanut butter and jelly
Any time of day’s a treat.

It urged kids to eat a good breakfast, and I felt proud that my mother had already discovered the virtues of PB&J. Three decades later, as a parent, I realized how great it was—the discovery that this sandwich was a lot easier than making a lot of other breakfasts, and it dirtied few dishes, which is important when housekeeping is a personal challenge. It helps to know that it’s enough protein for a child and not too many calories for someone who spend most of his day running after nothing at all—that nothing which is everything for a child, that something which is as real as an invisible friend that somehow gets lost between the sofa cushions just before adulthood.

But Elliot would not eat peanut butter and jelly. A profound disappointment, not just for the nutritional and housekeeping ramifications: it also meant my son was missing out on one of life’s basic comforts, one that would help him cope with a series of life’s rainouts, missed birthday parties and bad afternoons at the principal’s office.

But other kids are usually better influencers than parents. Kids know what’s important.

It was Elliot’s friend Brandon who created the breakthrough one morning of a sleepover. “Can I have HONEY on my peanut butter and jelly?” he asked.

How about it, El?” he turned to my son.

It was a disproportionate joy that accompanied the sandwich making. I made two sandwiches, the middle topped off with a drizzle of honey. I was a little bit too proud of my five-year-old son and myself. “Hey, this is pretty good,” Elliot said. Of course, the crust was left on both boys’ finished sandwiches, which didn’t spoil the triumph.

Nothing could spoil the triumph. Not even the day months later when I forgot the honey—and was absent-minded enough to blurt out the fact as we were driving to mommy’s house. His quivering voice threatened to summon a crisis that could easily last through the rest of our week’s final moments together. “Try it Elliot.” I hoped, “It’s okay.”

I could hear the first bite into the soft sandwich as sure as I could feel the lump in his throat that would make the peanut butter part hard to swallow. I was quiet, hoping for the best and concealing my own voice’s quiver.

The sandwich was fine—and not just because PB&J tastes the same without honey. It was fine because five-year-olds know how to keep their daddies from crying. “It’s pretty good, even without the honey,” he said. I cried later. On the drive home. With a smiling crust in the passenger seat.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Thimmesch permalink
    February 11, 2012 11:17 am

    Clarence,

    So much character, emotion, and insight packed into so little space. You read it really good on the video, too — much better than in Hassler’s class!

    • February 11, 2012 1:25 pm

      I think I look and sound like a goof in the video, but I was one of the lucky ones who was interviewed. Also, I did not have you to rescue me like in Hassler’s class, although we both had a bit of a task controlling laughter. I still don’t know what was so funny, but I also still have no sense of humor. Now, I have to think of something to write for next Friday.

  2. kaye h permalink
    February 13, 2012 9:04 pm

    ahhhh, that is sweet. Great work Clarence, capturing a memory such as this so important not only for you, but also your son in later years!
    February 13, 2012 6:39 PM

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