Literature 11-25-2008

miniStories: “The Boy Who Did Not Like Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches” by Clarence White

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.

Clarence White

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.

About the author: Clarence White is a grant writer living in St. Paul. He is a master of the personal letter and too many e-mails for which “send” has been hit with too much haste. He has worked as a writer for the National Farmers Union in Washington, D.C., the international organization Nonviolent Peaceforce, and several Twin Cities nonprofits. He is a veteran of the Central Minnesota Writers Workshop and a former bookseller (Hungry Mind Bookstore). For some reason, he earned an MBA. He will get tickets for any baseball game he and his son can possibly attend.