Fishing season is getting underway. And for one baby boomer, Erin O’Brien of Redondo Beach, California, it’s a reminder of another season from her childhood. No, you’ll never guess, so we’ll just tell you: Velveeta season. Erin says it was such an event in her past that she got concerned when a Velveeta shortage was announced a couple of months ago …
Elaine’s mother was from England. I loved playing at Elaine’s when her mom served tea in the afternoon –- not the cambric style my own mom served, just as her Irish grandmother had served her –- but a full cup of strong tea, to which she stirred in a little milk and sugar.
Elaine’s mom had a soft accent, and waist-length thick, golden hair, which she wore in a French twist. Once I saw her brushing it and she reminded me of a real-life Rapunzel.
Elaine and her big sister and little brother lived three doors down from my little sister and little brother and me, and their door was always open to the children in the neighborhood. I was there often.
One day I was over for lunch, and Elaine’s mom was making grilled cheese sandwiches in her black iron skillet, just like my mom did. But my eyes widened as, unlike my mom, she opened a box of Velveeta, which she proceeded to carve and place on the slices of bread.
It was hard to talk myself into going to sleep early on a summer night, when even window shades could not keep the sun out completely. But we were going fishing early the next morning, when the fish were biting, so we had to get an early start.
The sun was coming up yet again as my father waited impatiently on the driveway for my mom to wrangle the three of us so we could get on the road.
The drive was long, so my mom would dole out chewing gum and Lifesavers, which we snatched like piranhas from the back seat. We played the license plate game, stopped at gas stations, and I occasionally had to remind my younger brother and sister to “stay on their sides.”
There were three new, identical red fishing poles: one for me, one for my sister, and one for my brother. We’d been fishing with Dad before, and I had always preferred the blue one with the cork handle, thinking it somehow possessed some lucky power.
The first step was to bait the hook which, thankfully, did not involve worms. Dad opened a fresh jar of bright fuchsia salmon eggs, and a box of Velveeta cheese.
I set to work creating a beautiful “fish-ke-bab,” alternating between a salmon egg and a perfect ball of Velveeta: pink, orange, pink, orange. Dad assured me the fish would not take notice of my efforts, but I thought its last meal should be a memorable one.
At the end of our expedition, Dad lifted the heavy plastic cooler which had earlier included Mom’s sandwiches, now heavily laden with our catch. Another fisherman, empty-handed, had returned to his car, when he noticed Dad about to close the trunk. He looked at the three kids with matching red fishing poles, and offered Dad five bucks for whatever bait we were using.
“Velveeta?” he said, as Dad offered him the yellow box.
I wonder if he, too, was thinking of grilled cheese.