USS CARTER HALL, USAFRICOM, AT SEA
USS CARTER HALL, At Sea – I had a dream about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the other night.
Upon waking, returning to consciousness in a tiny bed with a ceiling about a foot from my face, I actually remembered the dream, an oddity for me.
It wasn’t any mere PB&J that I dreamt of, but a particular strain, a unique breed among a class of sandwich that’s given me much delight in my life.
No, it was the PB&Js that my mom would make that I dreamt of.
For whatever reason, they always taste somehow better when she makes them. No idea why. I tried for years to replicate the taste, to get the proportions and the spreading just so, just right, so they’d taste like hers. Same bread (sandwich, white), same peanut butter (creamy), and same jelly (grape). But, for whatever reason, her sandwiches always tasted better.
I’ve occasionally told her that it’s because the secret ingredient she uses to make them so fantastic is love, because it makes her smile and I do enjoy making my mom laugh, but the truth of it is, I have no idea why they taste so much better when she makes them. I think it’s a texture thing- balanced spreading of peanut butter and jelly over the length of the bread, getting the amount of both in the sandwich just right.
I’ve never been great at getting the jelly to behave- it globs up weird on the knife, and I’m not a hugely gifted individual in the culinary arts (that is to say, I burn cereal. It’s kind of a superpower, really.) So that is what I dreamt of.
Mom’s PB&J, and a glass of milk, sitting on the porch in my backyard, watching my dogs play. Well, one of my dogs play. The other one is blind and deaf on account of spooky genetic science stuff, and kind of just wanders around, bumping into things, shedding long white hair everywhere and generally being precious.
As it turns out, food strikes a fairly resounding chord among the Marines of Company K, Battalion Landing Team 3/2, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Movies can portray professional military men and women as constantly talking about weapons or killing or what have you, but in my experience, if they’re just relaxing, sleeping and eating are two of things they seem enjoy the very best. And writing a story about sleeping seems a difficult prospect. So I’ll discourse about foods instead.
It’s not the same for everyone, obviously.
“I miss my wife’s mac and cheese,” said Lance Cpl. Steven Melgar, automatic rifleman from Glendale, Calif. “It’s one of those box mac and cheeses, except she opens up two cheeses, makes it extra cheesy. And she makes it for me whenever I want.”
Love is a great secret ingredient, but I’ve found that doubling the amount of cheese on something is likely to be equally effective.
“It’s very sweet, extremely cheesy. Downright gooey, really. I like eating it right before I go to bed, you know? So I get that fat-boy baby sleep, going to bed with a full tummy and all that,” said Melgar, with a laugh.
“I miss ham and cheese sandwiches,” said Lance Cpl. Ruben Mcmillen, armory custodian from Orlando, Fla. “My mom used to make them every day, when I was in middle school. On ship, we don’t have the opportunity to make one. We don’t have the right bread and we usually don’t have sandwich meat. It’s something I’d take for granted, but now I miss it.”
When asked what toppings he’d put on it, he grins and replies, “Pickles, mayo, mustard, and tomato.”
Nobody’s perfect, I reckon.
Food, especially food made by people you know and care for, not robots in unseen factories, is one of the things that connects us as human beings, I’d argue.
The concept of home cooked food, of sharing time with family at meals, sitting, talking to, seeing one another, is especially important to Marines and sailors – a generation of Americans raised to adulthood in a different manner than their contemporaries in the civilian sector. Men and women who volunteered to go far from home, hearth, and family to do what needed to be done for the good of all, citizens in the truest sense of the word who sometimes need a dream to hold to, deployed to the other side of the world as they are.
“I think the dream of that one meal brings Marines back to home,” said Pfc. James Marsh, company police sergeant from Lawrenceburg, Ky.
“It brings back memories of being home, being with loved ones and friends. And for a lot of Marines, family is what keeps their head on straight,” said Marsh. “The idea of that meal, it can kind of be their happy place. Otherwise, the day to day can really put strain on some people.”
“My mom’s seafood pasta,” said Lance Cpl. James McLeod, company clerk from Wixom, Mich.
“I miss it because it’s delicious. Why else would I miss it?” said McLeod, making a laudable effort at stating the obvious. “You can’t find it anywhere else. It’s the only seafood pasta like it, you know?
"We only eat it on special occasions. Birthdays and such. It’s just what people ask for,” said McLeod.
“My wife’s tater tot casserole is probably the best thing she makes. It’s delicious. It’s my favorite,” said 1st Lt. Michael Swenson, fire support officer from Houston, Minn. “I miss not just the food itself, but eating with my family. It’s important for a family to have a little time together.”
In addition to suggesting something infuriatingly delicious-sounding, he also reinforces the idea of associating food and the strength of family, of home. Food isn’t as important because of what it is (delicious), so much as what it means to us. The idea of home is especially important to some Marine or sailor deployed half the globe over, getting a whirlwind tour of the deserts of the world.
“If we didn’t try to make time to do that, to be with each other, we wouldn’t be much of a family,” said Swenson.
As it is, the Marines and sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit have a little bit of dreaming left to them, before they head home to family and friends, before they can see that meal they’ve thought about for so long realized. Just a few more months before I can sit on my porch, and watch my dogs, and be with my family, and eat the perfect sandwich once more.
||USS CARTER HALL, USAFRICOM, AT SEA
||CHESAPEAKE, VA, US
||GLENDALE, CA, US
||HOUSTON, MN, US
||LAWRENCEBURG, KY, US
||ORLANDO, FL, US
||WIXOM, MI, US
This work, The Dream of the Perfect Sandwich: Marines, food, family, by Cpl Michael Lockett, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.