Every family has its sacred cows, those things considered immune from questioning or criticism, often unreasonably so; sometimes not.
When I was growing up, our family was no different. We had a few, but I won’t go into them here because some may be a bit embarrassing to one or more family members, yours truly included. Instead, I want to talk about a specific sacred cow my “family of origin” had when I was growing up: Hostess fruit pies.
Well, maybe not the Hostess brand of fruit pies, but rather, whatever the store-brand facsimile of them was in the 1970s. That’s what we had … or I should say, that’s what my dad had, because the rest of the family suffered through our formative years going “without.”
We weren’t a rich family, but we had everything we needed, with a few indulgences sprinkled in. That meant we were comfortable and satisfied, two things often in short supply in today’s world. That said, when my mom (and my dad, to a certain extent) determined certain products to be relatively equal in quality, performance or flavor, she wouldn’t hesitate to buy the “off-brand” version.
That being the case, we didn’t have Pop Tarts, but instead enjoyed their less-fortunate, rarely talked about (yet just as tasty) cousins, Toast ‘Ems. Also, when playing the cracker game, we tended to opt for the house brand vs. the more popular (and marginally crispier) Zesta or Premium saltines.
But it didn’t stop with food. My first 10-speed bike was a Huffy, not the more popular (and much more expensive at the time) Schwinn Varsity, and it served me just fine, though its colors (a palette of dull yellow with putrid brown detailing, reminiscent of so many things in the 1970s) were no match for the bright, sparkly green of the Varsity.
I could go on but let me state for the record it never bothered me that we didn’t always have top-of-the-line brands in our home. (After all, pre-packaged toaster treats don’t make the man, right?) The stuff we had was (and I like to think I’m not rationalizing) just as good, and again, it was because Mom was smart and judicious about what mattered and what was worth her dollars.
I was a happy kid, well fed, well treated, always fully clothed and never without the things I needed for school, sports or life in general. But this isn’t about having—or not having—the best or coolest stuff. It’s about fruit pies, a Haznaw family sacred cow.
My dad was a lunch pail guy in the heyday of lunch pails (Dad’s was metal with a matte black finish, none of this plastic, Playmate garbage you see today … his words), in an age when Stanley thermoses were simply utilitarian in nature, designed and built to keep a worker’s coffee warm throughout the day.
And every day, as far as I recall, my dad’s lunch pail included a summer sausage sandwich on light rye with yellow mustard (wrapped in wax paper), a peeled orange (also wrapped in wax paper), a thermos full of coffee, and a “Hostess-esque” fruit pie.
I’m not sure who purchased the pies (Mom or Dad), but there was always an ample supply of these goodies in a variety of flavors, at a time when “variety” meant three: apple, cherry and blueberry. (Simpler times to be sure.)
These goodies always inhabited the lower shelf of one of our kitchen cabinets, isolated from all other foods in our home. (Separation being the key to any effective Haznaw sacred cow.) And there was never so much as a word uttered about these pies. It was almost as though they didn’t exist. Yet somehow (maybe telepathically), we all understood that these were for Dad’s lunch and not to be touched by anyone else. They were as sacred and off limits to the rest of us as the several packs of cigarettes he left around the house, presumably so he would never be too far away from his favorite (or in reality, second favorite) vice.
There was always a pack on the end table next to his chair, another on the back of the toilet in our one and only bathroom (because good Lord, we can’t be without our lung darts while executing daily personal hygiene, can we?), and usually one on the kitchen counter, within arm’s reach of the pies. (Just coincidence, don’t read anything more into it.)
But again, I’m straying from the topic at hand.
What’s so interesting to me is that, as far as I know (and admittedly, I’ve never asked Mom or my siblings, nor did I ever ask Dad when he was alive), no one ever laid out a specific rule or edict that forbade consumption, tampering or movement of Dad’s fruit pies. And, if someone did eat, move or otherwise tamper with them (though I’m not sure what would be defined as “tampering,” but it rounded out the list and provided a level of intrigue in a story desperately lacking any style or substance), I’m sure nothing would have happened to us: no punishment, warning or even a reminder to keep one’s “grubby mitts”—as Dad liked to say—off them.
And as a kid, one who liked processed, sugary foods as much as the next, you’d think I’d want nothing more than to get my grubby mitts on just such a treat. And frankly, all I would have had to do was ask, and Mom probably would have bought a few extra, just for me during her weekly grocery trip. But they wouldn’t have been stored with Dad’s, I know that much to be true.
But I didn’t ask for my own, just like I didn’t eat, move, or tamper with Dad’s. None of us did. It was just understood that these pies were not for us; they were for someone else, not just the ones in our house, but also the ones still in the store that were still waiting to be purchased.
They were, by definition, a sacred cow.
You might be asking why this little, insignificant memory popped up. Even more, you may be wondering why I’m sharing it with you. (I thank you for joining me on the journey because I don’t think I could have endured it had someone else been telling it to me.)
It just populated my brain yesterday and I felt the need to tell this story because it shows some of the quirkiness of our family “back in the day.” And every family has their quirks, some good, some “not so good.” I feel fortunate that most of our family quirks and sacred cows fell into the “good” or at least “non-harmful” category. (Thanks Mom and Dad.)
But upon further review, I think I wanted to tell you this story because it shows in a small way how our family valued and respected other people’s “stuff” and continues to do so even today. We could have eaten those pies. Nothing was stopping us. But we didn’t. Why? Because they were Dad’s pies, and that was reason enough.
It’s one of the things I’ve always respected and loved about my family of origin: Mom, Dad, Mark, Kathy, Diane and myself. We care about one another, we love one another, and we always know that we’re all available for one another.
But just as important, we also know when to keep our grubby mitts off of other people’s pies.
© 2024 David R. Haznaw