I love Pop Tarts.
That’s right, I said it. Do I have to say it again? Call the men in the white coats. Slap me in the face and try to knock some sense into me. Make an appointment with a psychiatrist, I don’t care. I love Pop Tarts, I always have loved Pop Tarts, and now I’m coming out of my Pop Tarts closet – most likely the ultimate and most crowded closet in the universe. And I don’t mean the Pop Tarts of today with their namby-pamby icing on top; I’m a Pop Tarts purest. I’m talking Pop Tarts that are nothing more than flour, lard, brown sugar, and cinnamon. In MY day, we knew what a Pop Tart was. And I loved – love – them. And my Mom loved them, too.
I can remember the day I first found out about Pop Tarts. Mom brought home a box because she got it free from the Kellogg’s salesman. You see, Mom worked at the A&P store in the little ‘burb we grew up in. She usually worked 7:00 AM – 4:00 PM, sometimes 12:00 – 9:00 PM, 5 days per week, so anything that helped her get out of the drudgery of raising 4 ungrateful little yard apes was a plus for her. That job was her escape, I now know. Mom never wanted to be a housewife; she worked 35 years at A&P, from the day our local store opened until the day she, and the store, retired.
In the “60’s, convenience foods were popping up on every grocery aisle. They all were de rigueur in our house. Frozen orange juice, pot pies, tater tots, packaged bologna, Pop Tarts. With very little effort Mom had the three meals covered.
Now, frozen orange juice was a wonder at our house. I would stand in the kitchen doorway and watch my Mom wrestle with the cardboard can. When she “made” orange juice she would take a can from the freezer, use the can opener on one end, run the can under the faucet to “loosen” the unnaturally orange colored blob of ice, shake it over the empty pitcher, hoping it would fall out and down into the pitcher, then proceed to the next step and open the other end of the can and squeeze and squeeze the cardboard sleeve until most of the stuff was in the pitcher and the rest was dripping down her hands, onto the counter, and onto our new indoor-outdoor carpeting Dad had installed recently in the kitchen (oh, we were so very chic thanks to Sears, Roebuck and Company).
She’d spend the next five minutes cleaning up her mess, drying her hands, and putting her hair back in place while I stood there wondering why she didn’t just take the orange juice out of the freezer about a half-hour earlier to set it on the counter and allow it to thaw so she could simply pour it into the pitcher. But Mom hated domesticity so much that all that anger and frustration from having to perform her wifely and motherly duties just wouldn’t allow her brain to think of household shortcuts, or what today we call, life hacks.
But, by God, we had orange juice for breakfast…with Pop Tarts.
Now, I don’t know if my Mom really believed in a higher power or not. She was a “fallen” Catholic who was excommunicated by the church for throwing her child-beating first husband out of the house. But I guess God likes marriages to stay together more than He likes children who aren’t black and blue, so after her second marriage the priest at Our Lady of Lourdes asked Mom never to come back to his church.
Anyway, I swear the day Kellogg’s introduced Pop-Tarts Mom got down on her knees to thank the heavens above. No more would she slave to pour cereal out of a box, into a bowl, pour milk over it and shove it in front of my sister and me. She would never again have to even THINK of cracking an egg or frying up a little bacon for breakfast for her snotty little monsters…just open the box, tear open the paper bag and pop two brown-sugar cinnamon (my favorite) or blueberry (healthier) tarts into the toaster and try not to burn them. And if she did burn them – which she often did, no problem. Just cut the edges off and toss them on the table.
Now that I remember it, Mom had a real problem burning things. The joke in our house – okay ONE of the jokes in our house - was that Mom couldn’t cook or bake anything with flour in it without burning it. Until I was in high school I thought biscuits were supposed to be black on the bottom. One day at school I saw another kid’s toasted sandwich and told him, “You better not eat that, your Mom didn’t cook it right. It’s supposed to be black!”
When I was 17 and began working in my uncle’s restaurant I learned that pre-heating an oven will prevent burning, as long as you don’t go over the recommended baking time. But my mother was unable to grasp that little concept, even after I told her about pre-heating the oven.
“Jordy, I don’t have time for that!”
So every morning APT (After Pop Tarts), we would get to choose: one Pop Tart, or two? Plain, or toasted.
“PLAIN, Mom, for God’s sake, don’t go near the toaster!”
Add a glass of milk and a little orange juice made from frozen concentrate and we would be out the door and on our way to school…and Mom was free until 6:00 when she would toss 6 chicken pot pies into the oven and sit on the porch, smoking cigarettes and waiting for her second husband, my dad, to arrive home while the pot pies turned black on the bottom.
Did I say I also love chicken pot pies? No, not the beef ones. Yuck! Only chicken pot pies in our house. The ones with the crust on top AND the bottom, please. Ah, that tasteless, dry brown crust, the expertly diced peas and carrots, the rubbery squares of pressed chicken parts, and the gelatinous chicken gravy pulling it all together into a meal fit for the queen of A&P.
It wasn’t really as bad as I make it sound. And when I say I love chicken pot pies, I mean it. The foods you grow up with hold a special place in your memory – no matter what they are. They harken us back to simpler times, family sitting down at the dining table together, arguing about who is the stupider brother or telling on them, (“Bill peed in the sink!”) or regaling the family about that new TV show, “Lost In Space” (“It really happened, you know.”) And in the end, dessert! And if the A&P didn’t have a ready-made loaf-shaped pound cake wrapped in cellophane, no problem.
“Who wants a Pop-Tart?”