The following is a draft excerpt from my new book, “First We Eat. Food, Life, and (More) Stories” from Michele Sabad, author of Camp Follower One Army Brat’s Story, scheduled for release spring of 2020. Comments welcome!
“Mmm… potato dust!” It’s a cookie-cutter hot summer day, brilliant blue sky and not a hint of cloud, and Patti and I are young teenagers, tanned and scrawny and sitting in the shade on the grass in front of the Rec Centre on our home radar station, a military outpost set in prairie fields miles outside of Yorkton, Saskatchewan. Our long straight hair, Patti’s bleached even blonder from the swimming pool, mine brown, has already dried in tangled strings after an afternoon spent in the outdoor pool at the back of the recreation complex. The towels we sit on are still damp – why bother changing out of our two-piece suits for the walk home when we’ll dry easily in the sun, still high for hours yet. Our after-swim treat? Potato chips of course, and after licking the first few from each of our bags, we’ve crushed the remainder into a pourable powder to drain directly into our mouths. Salt and vinegar, held together by the starchy crunch, mixed with saliva to pasty, tasty lumpiness, to be savoured and enjoyed slowly. Or barbeque, that leave our licked fingers bright red with food dye. Like me, Patti can delay gratification. It becomes a reverse race to see who’s chips can last the longest. A ten-cent bag can’t last forever, however. Sighing with regret, shaking out the last puffs of crumbs in the empty plastic packages, we stand up and walk inside the building to toss the folded Old Dutch bags in the garbage can and to drink water from the fountain in the hallway outside the gymnasium. Time to go home for supper. We’ll be back tomorrow. Nothing like splashing for hours, swimming, playing, fighting, flirting, working up an appetite to fuel a hunger so pure and real that salt and vinegar chips are the most delicious food on earth. Summers when you’re thirteen are endless, and not in a bad way.
Nowadays, five decades away from the joy of those dreamy afternoons, my husband and I will go swimming once or twice a week. We’ll drive. Horseplay and bobbing isn’t appropriate at seniors lane swim times – we’ll do our half hour of laps in an orderly direction. We’ll shower and change into dry clothes, then drive to a Vietnamese restaurant for a healthy lunch of Pho soup, or a noodle dish for me. But if I close my eyes and inhale the fish sauce, the vinegar transports me back; I’m thirteen again, enjoying those satisfying potato chips on a hot summer day with Patti.