Monday, July 22, 2013

The Best Snack in the World

Snack's matter.
They're not a throwaway topic in favor of a main course and need not take a back seat to a steaming combo of meat and potatoes, spaghetti and meat balls or even a decadent dessert complete with whipped mascarpone or Fizz de Limoncello ( I just made that up but it sounds tasty and weird at the same time).
Snacking can mean a handful of nuts, a cookie or three, a bowl of cereal, a half bagel...the list could go on until the world becomes a cinder (the only surviving species being cockroaches and Kardashians) but many people -- mothers in particular -- believe that the very best snack of all is some delicious fruit.
No one can really argue with that....even I, who would scale the side of a building if I knew a single red velvet cupcake awaited me on the roof...and the elevator was broken. But fruit can be even better depending on the presentation and delivery method. Yes, I did say "delivery method."

Casually "liberated" from local groceries.
When I was little (yep, it's one of those stories), I spent many happy days in the tiny backyard behind the family brownstone. 

There was everything we needed back there...a swing set (glider, no teeter totter) that rocked and lurched the higher you swung, a wading pool on the hotter days, a small enamel table with four kid-sized chairs, cats that came and went as they saw fit and an assortment of balls, dolls and art supplies that we kept in old milk crates in the pantry. 

While there were no such things as juice boxes yet, a variety of adults (mother, aunts, my best-friend-who-lived-next-door's mother) would keep us hydrated with awful but delicious crap like Kool Aid and Hi-C. Lunches would, mostly, be served inside and were pretty darn good...peanut butter--of course, spaghetti, grilled cheese.
No juice to be found in there, I'm afraid.

But snacks were a different story. They were Grandma's domain.
A woman who rarely left the tiny kitchen, we could see Grandma toiling at the stove on the warmest days. Her form, clad in cotton dresses she sewed herself and partially obscured by the fire escape, she served a three course meal to my grandpa and uncle every day of the year.
Soup was served on 100 degree days and my grandfather, dentures a-clacking, would chew each mouthful diligently. On days my mother and I would join the men for supper (We never, ever used the word "dinner." That was reserved for the TV family in "Father Knows Best" or well-off White Anglo Saxon Protestants we hadn't yet met), his soup chewing would me drive me white-hot insane. But that's another post...
"Ready for dinner, dear?"

Grandma had moxie and liked fun stuff. She had a good grasp on how to delight children and snack time, often was her canvas.
Every summer afternoon at around 3, she'd lean out the window. My friends and I would often be languishing in the heat by then...lethargic, our low blood sugar causing listless arguments over whose turn it was to drink from the red plastic Mr. Peanut mug next, the sight of Grandma's arms braced on the sill would revive us. Snack time!
What would it be today? But how it came was just as important as what it was and the next thing we knew, Grandma was lowering a brown paper bag tied with thick string down from the second floor--one for each child. 
We'd reach up with grimy little arms to receive it, untie the string and she'd pull it back up, smiling at the chorus of thank yous we'd offer in exchange for the ripe peaches, unshelled peanuts or sunflower seeds, sliced apples or rosy plums we'd find within.
My favorite treat to find in the brown paper was a few handfuls of dark red cherries. Seeking out the firmest ones to eat first, we'd spit the pits back in the bag (except for the ones we "planted," absolutely certain we'd soon have a cherry orchard growing along the chain link fence that separated my backyard from the apartment house across alley.
Developed in part, I'm certain, by an aversion to walking stairs and simple as it was, getting a snack lowered from a window by string remains one of the best summer memories I have. Despite the thanks we gave Grandma in response, I doubt she realized the impact of her creativity.
When my kids were little, I'd interrupt wiffle ball extravaganzas by pitching ice cream sandwiches off the deck into outstretched hands, but nothing beats juicy cherries lowered from the kitchen window in a brown paper bag.
Not that I've been invited but, in my catalog of nostalgic tidbits, it beats tea served by the queen at Buckingham Palace any day.
Grandma, in a very rare moment of recreation.