Every time I spread jelly or jam over a warm slice of toast, I think of my father. In his mind, jelly toast was one of the main food groups—essential for a balanced diet.
It’s no wonder that he consumed the delicacy with every meal. After all, jelly toast contained all-important nutritional necessities: essence of berry mixed with a little sugar, salt, yeast, and a lot of YUM.
My guess is Dad introduced me to jelly toast on the sly—before I qualified for “people food.” There sat my chubby baby-self, between my parents, in the high chair Mom had painted in candy cane stripes of red and white.
Dad waited, coffee on his right and toast to his left. The minute Mom turned her attention to my older brother John or left the table to retrieve milk from the refrigerator, boom. In one quick move, Dad fed me a bite of jelly toast.
I am as sure of this as I am that I grew into a Mom of three kids who eat jelly toast.
Dad pulled the same trick with our dogs. From Pierre to Charlie to Rocky to Sweetie, our pups sat by his knee at mealtime. Dad bit into the toast and then tore off a piece and handed it, under the table, to the dog.
On more than one occasion, our father swatted the hands of my brothers away from an extra slice of toast.
“That’s for Rocky (or Sweetie or…),” he said.
When my boyfriend-turned-husband came on the scene and into our family, he brought all of his veterinary wisdom with him. Gary said things like, “Dogs thrive best when eating dogfood” and “People-food can cause digestive and other big problems for dogs” and “Dogs should never (as in ever) eat people-food.”
Ever gracious, Dad listened and nodded. And anytime Gary wasn’t looking, he slipped a chunk of jelly toast to Pierre or Charlie or Rocky or Sweetie. Because, you see, Gary started hanging around our house when I was barely old enough to date. He knew and loved all of our pets.
OK. Pierre was not his favorite. Dad had trained our little terrier-mix well. Pierre wouldn’t let Gary near me.
One would have thought my boyfriend-husband would have said, “Feed Pierre all the jelly toast he wants and throw in some chocolate for good measure.”
But, no. Even with stubborn, “get your hands off that girl” Pierre, Gary stood firm on his veterinary, dietary, book-learned foundation.
Dad liked my boyfriend. My father thought Gary a good match for me. But Gary was no match for my father when it came to sharing jelly toast with our dogs. I believe Dad enjoyed the extra challenge that presented itself when my boyfriend-husband joined us for a family meal.
At the dinner table, Dad watched Gary. Gary watched Dad. Mom, my brothers, and I watched Dad and Gary watch each other. A typical family night standoff.
My father could not suppress a crooked smile every time he managed to slide a bite of jelly toast under the table. And Gary? He caught my father more often than not, but said nothing. A defeated sigh with a hint of an eyeroll signaled his white flag.
Strawberry, blueberry, blackberry, raspberry—Dad was not picky about the jelly or jam flavor, nor was I, nor were the dogs. Homemade bread was his favorite, but all breads were acceptable.
As a toddler, teenager, and adult, when I stood in Dad’s presence in the kitchen, he dropped an extra slice of bread into the toaster for me. Dad always assumed that I, too, wanted jelly toast.
I did. I do. I always will.