A classmate wrote — not the one who tied me to a tree — and asked if I remembered him. I knew him the moment I saw his distinctive name in the e-mail address. As RR recalled, I was his first girlfriend. He was not, I must report, my first boyfriend; that was Rusty, back in nursery school. I arrived at school one day and saw a younger man with a blond crewcut putting the pots and pans in the refrigerator. “You must be a bachelor,” I said. “You need a woman.” Ah, why did it get so much harder to find men after I turned five?
But, yes, RR, I remember you and am flattered that you thought of me as your girlfriend, although tickled that you say you liked girls in glasses, as I didn’t get those until fifth grade. And I almost died laughing to find out that our principal had a nickname, Mrs. Fattyburger. I guess I was too much of a goodie-goodie to know that.
But what I am most struck by is your memory of the peppermint candies my family always had at hand. I hadn’t thought of those for years, but then — they were always there, so I didn’t value them much. Brach’s peppermint discs in individual plastic wrappers. The neighbor kids, Mary Pat and Jackie Monaghan, begged for them, but I seldom ate one. Like all kids, I yearned for the things that were scarce in my family’s larder. Brach’s toffees, for example, in chocolate and vanilla and maple. Or the Hershey bars that were reserved for my father, although you could finish one off if he left a few foil-wrapped squares behind in the sofa cushions. I liked walnuts, which we had only at Christmas, and peanut M&M’s, which I was allowed to buy at the Giant on our weekly Friday afternoon shopping trips. I liked chocolate drop cookies, purchased after trips to the dentist. I liked — but the point is made. I liked everything but those peppermints.
Why did other people always seem to have better food? Nora Ephron writes of the amazing goodies in a friend’s house in her essay on breasts; Melissa Bank does the same thing in THE WONDER SPOT. In Dickeyville, the best pantry of all time belonged to the Cohens, where my sister and I babysat. It was, in fact, memories of the Cohens’ culinary wonders and the self-imposed rules my sister and I instituted that led to a story called The Babysitter’s Code, which then led to To the Power of Three.
Who had the best kitchen in your neighborhood? Or was it a relative, many miles away? What treats seemed extraordinary in the homes of others?