A Bag of Peanuts

The Memory Project isn’t so much about memory as it is about trying to recount memorable events with concrete detail and thereby reclaim the emotion of the event. At least, that’s today’s claim.

So when a vivid memory of mine came up against three family members who had no recollection of it, I refused to back down. They admitted it _could_ be true (well, two out of three did). Besides, the event wouldn’t be memorable to them, so it’s plausible that they forgot it while it burns on in my feverish brain. (“You’re like X,” my father said recently, comparing me to a deceased relative. “You’re a hater.” Well, yes. And I have 10 novels to prove it.)

The story is this. When I was very young, I had a strange idea of luxury. For one thing, I thought $100 was the largest sum on earth; I had calculated my family’s annual income at $29-$39. Secondly, certain foods were rare in our household and I came to crave them intensely. Roasted peanuts, in the shell, fell into that category. We never bought them for the house, just enjoyed them at zoos or circuses, and I never got as many as I wanted. So when I had a tonsillectomy and was told I could have anything I wanted, I asked for a large bag of roasted peanuts. Just.For.Me. That part was key. I was the youngest of two and I had a great mania for things that were mine, not handed down or pre-owned. I had a lot of Second-Hand Rose issues, including the bit about Jake the Plumber, which dogs me to this day.

The peanuts came in a waxy paper bag, the kind that would be used at Woolworth’s or a G.C. Murphy’s, which I still remember as the best-smellng place on earth, with the popcorn and peanuts and chocolate mingling together in this heady mix of sweet and salt and fat. The bag was white, with red, blue and yellow printing on it. There was a clown, standing in profile, holding a bunch of ballons. The peanuts were fresh and almost hot when my father brought them home, but my post-operation throat wouldn’t be ready for them for days. At some point, it became clear that the peanuts might actually spoil before I could eat them.

So my father and older sister, with great ceremony, sat down and ate them in front of me. I wasn’t told that I would get another bag, or that they were doing this to avoid waste. They made great lip-smacking show of it, with my father pronouncing the peanuts the very best he’d ever had. I went nuts. (Ha!) I was only four. I chased my sister, but she ran outside, where I was forbidden to go, being in a recuperative state and all.

(An aside: This is not the famous moment in Lippman family history where I fling myself across the room and bite my sister in the back with such pitbull-like ferocity that I have to be slapped and wrestled to the floor before I let go. I don’t remember that incident at all, but everyone else swears by it. I was only two or three when that happened. So, yeah, always a hater.)

(My sister is now one of my favorite people on the planet. Just so you know. I don’t think we’ve had an argument for almost 30 years. And I definitely haven’t bitten her in all that time.)

No one — not even my mother, utterly blameless in this scenario — will vouch for the peanut story. But my memory of the bag convinces me that it’s so. I’m capable of making up the story; I’m not capable of creating that bag.

Or am I?

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9 thoughts on “A Bag of Peanuts

  1. Your mention of treats while in the hospital reminds me of my brother. When he was little he was in the hospital, can’t remember what for. All he wanted was a jelly donut. Fortunately one of our neighbors was a nurse or aide on his floor. She got permission for him to have the donut and then went out and bought him one.

  2. My “creating the bag” story: Being native Philadelphians, the Connors Family always took the second week of August as our family vacation in Wildwood, NJ, or as we call it here, “downtheshore” (one word, please). One year, though, instead of the shore, my parents got the wild and crazy idea to take the four kids to New York for a few days. The mere idea of this trip - the utter sophistication of it all - was quite overwhelming for a starstruck 13 year old like me, who at that time lived to absorb every obscure fact about TV, film and theater that I could stuff in my head.

    To add to all the excitement, my mom told me I could pick out a play for the family to go see. God only knows how I found out about what was on the Great White Way - the Marple Public Library must have been subscribing to “Cue” magazine those days - but after some research, I told her I wanted to see Alan Ayckbourn’s “Absurd Person Singular”. Even well into my fourth decade of idiosyncratic behavior, I have to admit that “Absurd Person Singular”, a British comedy of manners by a playwright not then famous in the States, was a strange choice for a young teen to make.

    It wasn’t absurd for me, though - I chose it because I was enchanted with Larry Blyden. Those of you in the room between the age of 40 and 100 might remember him as the host of one of the incarnations of “What’s My Line” in the 70s, but he was also a gifted film, TV and theater actor who apparently made a big impression on me (see http://www.larryblyden.net for more about him). By the time we went to go see the play that summer, Larry Blyden had been tragically killed in a car accident, so even though the main reason I was dragging my family to this show was gone, I remember enjoying the heady experience of my first Broadway play nonetheless.

    In intervening years, whenever I brought this episode up to my mom, she would tell me she had no memory of seeing it, nor did my brother or sisters. But recently, while cleaning out my attic (in a little project I like to think of as “Rosie Goes Shopping Among Things She Already Has”), I found “the bag” - I came across the Playbill for “Absurd Person Singular”. I cherish it not only for the validation of a happy, actual memory of mine, but also for the reminder of how special it was that my parents indulged their daughter in loving the eccentric things she did - and still does - love.

  3. That is a very cool story.

    Me, I’m famous in my family for being the kid who just didn’t get “Bob and Ray” at age 11. They still hold that over my head. Then again, I remember buying a Happy Hollister book at the old Scribner’s on 5th Avenue, so the trip had its pleasures.

  4. Tonsil story!: I had my tonsils out when I was 5. I remember fighting the sleeping shot they gave me, watching my dad sit by the bed. They wheeled me into the operating room and I was still awake, clutching my “norwegian” doll. They took the doll from me and I guess I finally knocked out. When I awoke, they had put a surgeon’s mask on my doll as a diaper. I remember they woke me up at midnight to drink a huuuge glass of 7UP that I didn’t want. There was apparently a shortage of blankets at the Denver Hospital that October/November of the early 70s because I remember having a large towel.

    I actually have very few memories of growing up. It was a happy one I guess just uneventful. I’m that way now although perhaps its more of emptying the memory bowl every night in order to make room for the new events. (shrug). This does not come in handy during arguments with my husband who can come up with a gajillion things against me and I very little. (sigh)

  5. I noticed many, many years ago that my father and his two-year-older sister, who were several years older than the remaining-at-that-time siblings, had distinctly different recollections of many things from their past, to the point of argument. In actuality, the older siblings had lived life much differently from the younger siblings because there was a 17 year spread.

    My sister and I are also two years apart-she got the hand me downs-more often that not remember things differently. We do notice that I recall much from the younger years that she does not. However, we do not argue about it, which would probably surprise our parents since we did so much of it in those formative years.

  6. I can give you an “oldest child” unhappy story. I’ll try to keep it short.

    My father took us (four kids) to a pool for the day. Since he had paid for the pool, there was no way in hell he was going to let us eat at the snack bar, which served the most delightful greasy cheeseburgers and fries. Instead, Mom would come to the pool with a cooler full of snadwiches and treats and we could go to the car to eat.

    Lunchtime arrives. No Mom. Kids all hungry. We talk Dad into buying lunch at the snack bar … only … someone has to stay and watch the chairs and towels and clothes and things. I, being the oldest, was assigned this task, with the promise that I would get my greasy lunch after the kids had eaten.

    But, Mom showed up while I was still waiting. Five minutes later, Dad and my siblings come back. I ask if we can go get my cheeseburger.

    Dad says: “The home food is here now, you don’t need a cheeseburger, go to the car and eat your tuna sandwich.”

    The tirade I threw only further complicated matters, and I was labeled ungrateful and selfish. I didn’t even bite anyone, but I confess to wanting to pummel and drown one or all of them.

    I hated being the oldest.

  7. To add insult to injury, my brother ate the only tuna sandwich without lettuce on it (which was mine, as I was the only child who was repulsed by this combination), so when I finally gave in to hunger and stopped pouting about the lost cheeseburger, I had no sandwich to eat.

  8. John, I love this story.

    To this day, I feel disappointment about food very keenly. It kills me when I go to a favorite restaurant and the item I most want isn’t available. I don’t throw a tantrum — but I want to.

  9. Thanks, Laura.

    I agree, having to settle for second choice when I go out for dinner does put a damper on an otherwise enjoyable night out.

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