The Last PB and J

There was a time when my girls would greet me at the door and jump into my arms when I arrived home from work. That ended when they became teenagers. Almost overnight, I became a dullard, a fool, and the most lame human being to take up space on the planet. They began listening to strange music. They  became interested in things like skin care and started cooking with strange spices like turmeric and paprika. The only spices in our house up until that time were salt and butter.

               Each evening they retreated to their rooms and claimed to be “studying”. While my wife was in the bedroom talking on the phone with her mother, I was left alone in the den to read or watch old Westerns, the Andy Griffith Show, and Atlanta Braves baseball. On the weekends, I offered to take them to the farm to fish or look for arrowheads or just roam the woods as we always had. But, increasingly, they seemed to have more pressing matters which called for their time. I tried to instigate conversations, but more often than not this only resulted in empty, bewildered stares or eye rolls.

               What became of those beaming little girls that once greeted me at the door? Where did they go? They are being held captive by these puzzling creatures who find it astonishing that they could be related to so foolish a man as me. I’ve earned three college degrees, conducted countless scientific experiments, started a pecan farm from 6 foot sticks planted into the ground, had to navigate myself through a South American airport where no one spoke English, yet I’ve found nothing as challenging as being a father to teenage daughters. It’s the most helpless feeling in the world.

               Despite this helplessness, there is one thing at which I excel, and which can be of use to these daughterly creatures of mine. I have mastered the art of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have been around since Julia Davis Chandler introduced the first recipe of its kind in the Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics in 1901. However, it took the development of three key ingredients for the sandwich’s popularity to take hold.

In 1869, after taking offense at his church’s use of wine in its communion services, Dr. Thomas B. Welch, a Methodist minister, physician and dentist used Louis Pasteur’s new pasteurization process to create Welch’s Unfermented Wine for use in church services. After showcasing his concoction at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Welch’s Grape Juice took off and the Welch Grape Juice Company boomed. When World War I rolled around Welch’s produced Grapelade by cooking their juice down to a more solid substance that could be spread- a grape jam that was first sold to the public in 1923 based on its popularity with soldiers during the war that should have ended all wars. In 1928, a Missouri jeweler named Otto Rohwedder produced a multi-bladed bread slicer. By 1930, sliced bread was common across America.  During the 1930’s , a cheaper, creamier, less sticky and more easily spread peanut butter was developed. The convergence of these three culinary innovations on the U.S. military’s ration list during WWII and their popularity with troops caused the PB & J sandwich to reach iconic status following the war.

For more than 12 years, I have walked groggily to the kitchen in the early morning quiet with nothing but the sound of my wife’s coffee percolating on the counter next to me and made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. When the girls were young there were specific instructions: 1) the crust had to be cut off; 2) the sandwiches had to be sliced into triangle shaped wedges; 3) Only Sunbeam white, Wonderbread, or Captain Durst’s Good Old Fashioned Bread were acceptable. I also added a few rules to the list based on my own personal preferences—only Jif peanut butter and Strawberry preserves—not jam or jelly–only preserves—could be used.

Additionally, a proper PB & J contains only smooth—not crunchy—peanut butter. This must be applied liberally to both slices of bread. Aside from its joyful taste, this method achieves a functional purpose. When you reach the ¾ empty mark on a jar of preserves, there’s little in-tact fruit remaining, and you are left with essentially jelly or jam—runny, oozy, messy stuff. By coating each side of the bread with peanut butter, you seal the bread so that the oozy jelly portion doesn’t leak through or drip out the bottom of your sandwich.

How many of these have I made—often by rote movement– through the years? I’m sure I’ll make more of them for these daughters of mine from time to time but a few mornings ago, I made the last PB & J I’ll ever make for my oldest daughter’s school lunch. She has since graduated high school and we will take her off to college before summer’s end. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich. A silly thing to get emotional about I suppose, but there I was. Lathering both bread slices with Jif. She and I used to tease each other with new jars of peanut butter. We both derived a deep satisfaction from being the first to mar the perfectly smooth surface of peanut butter filling a new jar. If one or the other of us broke the seal on a new jar, we would quickly and deviously take the first scoop with a spoon or create little furrows in the creamy smoothness with the dull teeth of a butter knife and then show the newly disturbed jar to the other.

As I delved into the jar of preserves, spread the fruit-laden substance onto one peanut butter coated slice of bread and settled the other slice on top of it, something came over me. A realization. I was awakened to the fact that this was a turning point in life.

From the moment I held her in my arms for the first time 18 years ago I’ve thought about this time in our lives. The first of a handful of letting go’s that will eventually lead her away from me into the dawning of her own adult life. There will be other moments. Her college graduation, a job, marriage, her own children. But, it is the first step that is often the hardest for a parent to standby and watch. No matter how much we want to reach out and hold fast to their hand, to keep them safe, we know bitterly that we must use all the strength we can muster to keep our own feet planted in place, hands at our sides, and watch them toddle away.

I’ve made hundreds of PB & J sandwiches for myself and others over the course of my life up to that one. This sandwich was much like the others. It was two slices of Wonderbread, each coated with Jif All-Natural Creamy peanut butter, and a spread of strawberry preserves in-between. I wrapped it in a paper towel and placed it in a zip-lock bag. It doesn’t sound like much. But, this one probably had a little extra salt. Possibly from a couple of tears. I hope they added a bit of flavor that will linger as she embarks on her journey into the world.

One thought on “The Last PB and J

  1. Good memories… And it’s always bittersweet that our daughters grow up.

    In my family, PB&J’s are made with our family (at least going back to my great-grandma’s) grape hull preserves!



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