“Oh my God. What is that smell?”

“Eww! Where is it coming from?”

“I’m gonna barf!”

“Um, yeah, um, gross………um, yuck…….that’s so, um….ewww.”

I tried my best to join in on the running commentary regarding the foul smell filling up my 3rd grade classroom

a. Because it really did smell.

b. Because the smell was coming from me (well, my backpack actually) and I wanted to throw my disgusted classmates off of my scent (literally). Which was proving to be impossible, as the oxygen-to-funk-ratio approached dangerous levels with each stinky second.

It was all my mom’s fault.


I had been begging her to stop packing Polish sausage sandwiches in my lunch since the first grade, when I realized I was the only one eating something that didn’t come shrink-wrapped and doused in alarming amounts of high fructose corn syrup and chemical by products.

It just wasn’t fair.

“Mama, why can’t I have a Twinkie for lunch? Or a Capri-sun juice box? Or cheese and crackers?”

“Noh!!” (For some reason, “no” in a slavic accent sounds way more serious) “Dis eez noh gud forrrr yuw!”

Good God. All I wanted was to feel the smooth edges of that little red plastic cheese spreader against my fingers as I covered some crackers in creamy, fake, processed Kraft goodness.

But that little red cheese spreader, much like my futile attempts to fit in with my cooler classmates, was always just beyond my grasp, and in it’s place was a giant, stinky, Polish sausage sandwich. On rye.

Socially, it was pretty much uphill for me for the next decade.

Which was a real bummer because I had gained some serious weight secretly eating the half-eaten Ding Dongs and  Doritos that I managed to salvage before they were cruelly discarded by my ungrateful friends who didn’t know just how good they had it. Not only did their lunches taste good, they didn’t make people recoil in horror and flee in the opposite direction.

It was a childhood marred by the strong stench of two cultures clashing; a mother hell bent on raising her child to know and respect her roots, and a stubborn daughter who just wanted her food to come from a cardboard box, like normal people.

I vowed to never put my own children through the emotional turmoil of having to unwrap a smelly Polish sausage sandwich in front of their classmates and friends and promised to pave their road to social success with more culturally acceptable choices, such as peanut butter and jelly on Wonder Bread.

Boy was I full of crap.

What I didn’t count on as a kid was that I would grow up to not only embrace my Polish roots but that I would turn to them in times of celebration and mourning, that I would someday come to miss the familiar odor of garlic that permeated through my bagged lunches and made my classmates gag, that those sandwiches and all they represented would help to define me as a woman, a wife, and a mom.

Which means my kids are screwed.

But I hope that someday, when they are grown and sitting around our Polish-American dinner table, they’ll bite into a hearty Polish sausage sandwich, surrounded by the sounds and smells of my Motherland, and with a melancholy look in their eyes, they’ll do the same thing I eventually did to my Mama

and thank me.







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