Peanut Butter and Jelly
Lilly’s squeal bounced across every wall throughout the two-story home in a way that only a five-year-old’s squeal can bounce. She stood at the top of the stairs tracking every step the two made.
“Dad!” Lilly said. “Grandpa Mike and Grandma Gail are walking up the driveway.”
“What are they doing so early on a Monday morning?” Dad’s voice came from somewhere.
“I don’t know. Grandpa has a big bag in his arm,” she said. Still up on the second-floor landing, Lilly dropped to her belly to get a better look through all the front windows. “I can’t see where they went.”
Dad peeked out from the bathroom, shook his head, and smiled. Lilly was still trying to scout the positions of her visitors.
In a calm voice, he suggested, “Why don’t you go down there and see what they’re doing?”
“Good idea!” Stomp. Stomp. Stomp, stomp, stomp. Lilly darted down the stairs to wait by the front door. The anticipation was almost too much to contain. Was Grandpa behind the front door, waiting to surprise her with a “Gotcha!” if she got too close? Maybe he was sneaking in around the side to zap her with the tickle monster. It was quiet. Too quiet.
When Dad started to make his way down, he was not surprised to see Lilly still by the entranceway, head turned and one ear pressed against the door. “Are they here?”
“I think so. But I can’t tell.”
Dad was still amused. “What can you tell by listing to the door?”
With a chuckle, Dad tussled his daughter’s hair as he urged her out of the way He unlatched the bolt and turned the handle, coming face-to-face with an all-too-familiar sight.
“Geez, Pop, Gail. Get a room, you two!”
Mike smiled and said, “Ha! Sorry about that, Brian. Love is in the air, Son. Love is in the air. Happy Valentine’s Day!”
Brian moaned just loud enough so everyone could hear him as he turned to make his way back upstairs and finish getting ready for work. On his way, he mocked his father’s happy mood.
“Love is in the air… Whatever,” he said, just quiet enough so no one could hear him.
Centerstage was now open for Grandpa Mike.
“Who’s ready for some Valentine’s Day breakfast?” Mike sang in his best, ‘Come on down!’ tone.
“Me!” squeaked the first voice.
“Me!” squealed the second.
“That sounds like a tie to me,” Mike said.
Lilly and Gail stared each other down with grimacing scowls, both thinking they should have won that round. Lilly cracked a smile first; Grandma Gail claimed her victory.
“You ready for breakfast, too, Grumpypants?” Mike called upstairs.
“Good one, Grandpa,” Lilly chuckled as she grabbed the bag her grandfather was holding and made her way to the kitchen. As she walked, a scowl returned to her face, her shoulders slumped, and she clumsily walked side to side, side to side, mumbling, “Grrr! I’m Mr. Grumpypants.”
“Good one, Lilly,” Gail chuckled as she followed Lilly’s version of Mr. Grumpypants into the kitchen.
Mike smiled, glancing upstairs to see if they got a reaction from his son. “Breakfast in ten, Brian,” he said, loud enough for anyone upstairs to hear. Mike hoped his son wasn’t alone up there and wouldn’t come down. Love is in the air.
“I’ve got a busy morning, Dad. I need to get to work,” Brian said. He was yelling from the bathroom.
“I said breakfast in ten.”
“Yes, sir.” Brian just closed his eyes and took a calm breath. “I’m never going to win this one, am I?”
Mike walked into the kitchen to see his two helpers laying out the contents of his shopping bag onto the kitchen island. Two jars of peanut butter, two jars of jelly, a loaf of bread, and a pack of soft tortillas. Neither helper seemed particularly confused, but they were waiting for further instruction.
“Who wants to help me make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?” Grandpa Mike asked, looking deep into the crowd of two.
Lilly bounced up and down with her hand held high. “Ooh,” she said. “Me. Pick me!”
Gail quickly raised her right hand, placing the tip of her index finger to her nose. “Not it,” she said. Lilly claimed victory.
“Okay, munchkin, you’re up.” Grandpa Mike started barking out orders in rapid succession as Lilly scrambled to keep up with his pace.
“I need four plates,” Grandpa said. Lilly darted to the cabinet, counted off four dishes, then dashed back to the island. She placed them down and announced the completion of her mission.
“Four napkins on the table.”
The report never came in until her task was complete. “Four napkins!”
“Five spreader knives.”
“Five spreader knives!”
“I smell coffee brewing. Let’s get a cup for your dad. Black.”
“A cup for my dad. Black!”
“Two orange juices.”
“Two orange juices!”
Lilly didn’t know what to do. “Pizza cutter?” she asked. A look over to Gail didn’t help. They were both confused.
“You heard me,” Grandpa Mike confirmed. “Pizza cutter.”
When Brian turned the corner into the kitchen, he shook his head again. No, this was not a fight he was going to win. “What is your grandfather up to this morning?” he asked his daughter.
“Breakfast,” she said. Then, taking her dad by the hand, Lilly led him over to the table and motioned for him to take a seat in front of a piping hot cup of coffee. She sat down by his side.
Grandma Gail made her way over to the table and took a seat, her hands warming up around the cup of tea she made while the other commotion was going on.
“Okay, Lilly,” Mike said. “Do we have everything?”
“I guess so, Grandpa. I got everything you told me to get.”
“Then the last thing I need to get is cracking. So, let’s get cracking!” Lilly squeaked and laughed. Gail chuckled. Brian shook his head at the corny pun.
Grandpa Mike reached across the kitchen island and took the first plate off the stack. He raised it, keeping his arm straight, slowly rotated the dish in front of his family, showing both the front and back to prove it was empty.
“First up, sweet Lilly,” he said. The five-year-old bounced and clapped her hands in excitement.
Mike opened the pack of whole-grain bread, set the first two pieces from the end aside, and grabbed two fluffy slices, placing them on the cutting board. He looked back up and scanned his audience for reactions. Nothing. Next, he reached towards the peanut butter jars, then paused ever so slightly before grabbing the chunky peanut butter. Lilly gasped a sigh of relief as her grandfather opened the jar. He scooped a generous portion and lathered one slice of bread end to end with a spreader knife. Mike looked up and reached across for a jelly – the jar of raspberry preserves, to be specific. Lilly wasn’t concerned he would make the wrong choice that time. He spread an even amount across the second slice. When the crowd inched forward, waiting to see what would happen next, Grandpa Mike reached across and grabbed the pizza cutter.
“When you were a baby,” he said to Lilly, “you loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We used to eat them together every day.” As he talked, Mike started to cut into the coated slices. Three cuts up, two across. Next piece, three and two. Twelve squares each. He looked at Lilly. “One day, you grabbed the peanut butter slice while I was still spreading the jelly. So I thought, ‘If that’s the way you want it…,’ and I just put the jelly slice on your plate.”
Mike looked back down and grabbed a peanut butter corner. “You would take a bite of peanut butter,” he said as he placed the first corner on her plate before grabbing a raspberry preserves-coated version of the next piece. He continued, “then, you would take a bite of jelly. Until one day…” Grandpa Mike rebuilt the two images: peanut butter – jelly – peanut butter – jelly, for one, then jelly – peanut butter – jelly – peanut butter, for the other.
“…we did this.”
There were more giggles, bouncing, and clapping as Mike presented his checkerboard sandwich creation to Lilly.
“I remember that,” Brian said. “You always had some silly way to eat a sandwich.”
Lilly looked at her dad and giggled in agreement before picking a plate to show Grandma Gail.
“That’s a good-looking sandwich, Sweetie,” Grandma Gail said.
With approving nods from all, she put her plate down to wait for the other breakfast creations.
Mike grabbed the second plate and presented it with the same pomp and circumstance. However, he picked a tortilla and laid it directly onto the plate this time. The second jar of peanut butter, the creamy one, was his next selection. Mike reached for the unopened jelly but paused. With his arm still extended, he looked over to Lilly for a recommendation. Aghast by what he must be thinking, wondering if her grandfather had gone mad, she shook her head no – it was more of a nervous twitch – but refused to say a word.
“You’re right, my dear,” Grandpa said. “My lovely bride definitely prefers the sweet sugars of your favorite raspberry preserves.” He tapped the jar, indicating his selection. Lilly gasped a breath of relief. Gail knew he would never dare.
Mike continued. “Unlike you, however, she does not like that fancy organic 12-grain bread. She prefers…” Mike picked up the package and squinted to read its tiny lettering. “…low-calorie, low-carb, high-protein, whole-wheat tortillas, with creamy peanut butter and raspberry preserves.” Mike smeared the peanut butter in a lazy S down the middle of Gail’s tortilla before blending it with a healthy smidge of preserves. He placed the “contaminated” jelly spreader into the sink before carefully rolling the breakfast sandwich, neatly folded at one end.
Brian congratulated Gail, “that’s one fine-looking peanut butter and jelly burrito. ¡Come con gusto, Señorita!”
Lilly admired the creation. She said, “I think I might try that the next time I have a PB&J. Whenever that will be.”
“Tomorrow!” all three shouted in agreement. More giggles, more bouncing.
“Brian,” his dad said as he grabbed the third plate. “In all of your years, you have never strayed from the original.”
“I am who I am,” Brian said as his father pulled two more slices from the bag. He grabbed a spreader and applied an even layer of crunchy peanut butter, corner to corner and end to end, onto one piece before reaching for the unopened jar.
“Yep, old school grape jelly proves you are who you are. I love it!”
“No school like the old school, Dad. You taught me that.”
Mike grabbed the fourth spreader and spread the grape jelly. It was not spread on the clean slice, mind you, but directly atop the peanut butter layer. He looked up and winked at Lilly before spreading a second layer of crunchy peanut butter on the other slice.
“I started doing this for your school lunches when you were a kid,” Mike said. If you put the J in between layers of PB, it won’t bleed through the bread before lunchtime.”
“That’s what Daddy does for me,” Lilly boasted.
“You two must be the envy of your classes,” Gail said. But the task was not yet complete, so she set the stage. “What about you, Grandpa?” she asked. “Would you going to have for your Valentine’s Day breakfast?”
“It’s a tough one,” Mike said. He rubbed his forefinger and thumb across his chin as if he was deep in thought. “Grape or raspberry?” There was no anxiety this time, but Lilly was again on the edge of her seat.
“Raspberry it is!”
Gail’s hands raised in triumph once more.
Brian jerked his neck back, shattered by losing a race so close.
Lilly sighed, happy that breakfast prep was almost over.
“Sorry, Son. She got me hooked on the ’serves.” Mike grabbed the two loose end pieces and put them on his plate.
“That’s not a word, Dad,” Brian said while his father dropped and smushed a healthy serving of crunchy peanut butter on one slice. “At least you haven’t gone creamy.”
“Nope, I’m a chunky man,” Mike said, pausing to rub his belly. He then grabbed the fifth spreader (it was uncontaminated) and scooped raspberry preserves, piling them on top of his peanut butter. Then, using the second slice as a press, he pushed the preserves across both peanut buttered and un-peanut buttered portions of the sandwich.
“You never could eat your sandwich like a normal person, Pop!”
“It’s the perfect creation,” Mike explained as he walked over to the table, plate in hand, and sat next to his wife. “The pressure spreads the preserves across the bread, but not too far over the edge. See?” He traced his finger along the bottom of his sandwich, noting three different points where raspberry preserves protruded but never separated from their host. “Every time I bite into this PB&J, my mouth will enjoy a different sensation.”
He circled one corner of the bread. “Almost all grain with just a hint of raspberry sweetness. Will there be peanut butter somewhere in that bite?” He looked over at Lilly, but she just shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know either.”
“This part here,” he said, running his finger along the bread’s ridgeline, “will be a healthy mix. The bread, preserves, peanut butter, and bread again will all come together in a fantastic battle for control of my taste buds. Every next bite will be different from the last.”
Then, he pressed the middle of his creation, denting the soft slice for just a moment. “This is payday! A hefty portion of chunky peanut butter-ness. Sometimes I save the center for last, enjoying the unique combinations of every other bite my sandwich holds. Sometimes I gobble a path straight through, satisfying my urge before cleaning the bones off my prey.” Grandpa Mike’s eyes grew wide as he scanned the table, searching for a reaction. Lilly’s eyes grew wide, Gail’s formed tears of laughter, Brian’s looked down as he continued to shake his head.
“That’s still weird to me,” Brian said.
Gail looked over at Mike and shared a quick, silent conversation (one you can only have after 21 years of marriage) before tapping her hand on the table.
“Lilly, dear,” she said. “I have some Valentine’s Day presents in the car. Of course, they are no artisan peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but why don’t we get them to share over breakfast.”
“Arty who?” Lily asked.
“Come on, silly! I’ll explain on the way.” As the girls popped up to get gifts from the car, Gail looked back at Mike and winked before opening the front door.
“Thanks, Babe,” Mike’s silent reply said.
“‘Fantastic battle for control of my taste buds!’ That’s a good one, dad.” Mike leaned back and enjoyed another sip of coffee.
“Thanks,” Mike said. They enjoyed a silent moment before he decided to share a story.
“You know, Brian, I’ve made a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in my life.”
“I’m sure.” Brian showed no interest in this declaration. His dad continued anyway.
“I’m talking thousands and thousands since I was a kid. I ate them all my life. I can make a good sandwich – a normal sandwich.” Mike pointed out Brian’s, and he pointed to Lilly’s. “For me, though, they were always weird. I never thought so, but everyone who has ever watched me make one thought they were weird.”
“That’s because they are, Dad,” Brian said.
“True.” Mike thought about that for a minute, but he had to reconfirm. “True.” Again, the table remained silent for a while.
“But,” Mike said, as though he realized a point to his losing argument, “I continued to make them. You know, many people think that the way you craft a PB&J is a sign of what kind of person you are.” He pointed to Lilly’s plate – “Strong, intelligent, and organized.” He swung his finger over to Brian’s plate – “Traditional, loyal, reliable.” Pulling his arm back, Mike gestured towards Gail’s plate, by his side – “This one’s confident, creative, and exciting.
“Me?” Mike looked down at his plate. “They think this says that I’m a mess. Never got my shit straight; at my age, I never will. However, even though everyone always had a comment about the poor form of my sandwich, I continued to make them.”
“Good for you, Dad,” Brian said while getting up to refill his cup. What he really wanted to do was eat his sandwich; that coffee was burning a hole in his empty stomach. But, when he heard the car door outside slam shut, he hurried back to his seat.
Mike continued, “I met Gail a few years after your mom and I divorced. Do you know what that woman said the first time she saw me make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?”
For the first time, Brian was curious how the story would turn out. “What’s that?” he said.
“Nothing,” Mike replied. “Since the first day we met, Gail has never commented on my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”
To Brian, that was interesting. “So, what does she think about them?” he asked.
Mike shrugged his shoulders, twisted his face, and threw his hands in the air. “I have no idea,” he said. “That I am confident? Creative? Don’t have my poop in a group? Maybe she thinks I am a complete loon.” Brian spat a bit of coffee while laughing. His dad piled it on. “She may be playing the long game, waiting for me to check in on the funny farm! Lilly, too. She has never said a word about Frankenstein’s sandwich.”
Both men kept laughing so hard they never heard Gail and Lilly come back into the house. Cautiously, the girls inched their way in towards the sound of bellowing laughter. Mike jumped up, tears streaming down from his face. He lifted Lilly with one arm, then wrapped the other around Gail’s waist.
Brian had to know. “Hey, you two,” he said, between snorts of laughter. How come you never said anything to Grandpa Mike about his ugly peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?
Not sure of what the joke was, they looked at each other curiously.
“I don’t know,” Gail said. “It’s his sandwich.”
Lilly remained clueless but could not contain herself, joining in on the laughter. “Because that’s the way Grandpa likes ’em,” she giggled.
Mike held his two treasures, unable and unwilling to dry his eyes. “Brian,” he said, “do you know what to do with someone who doesn’t share their opinion about everything?”
“What’s that, Dad?”
Mike pulled his two girls in tighter, kissing them both on their cheeks.
“You love them for the rest of your life!”