My dad was a medical student when I was born, and I saw very little of him the first seven years of my life, so when I was three, we started a ritual: If he was home for an occasional morning or an afternoon, he would bring out the bucket of peanut butter with cartoon animals printed on it (yes, back in the day you could buy peanut butter in a tin bucket, at least on the East Coast you could) and he’d place it on the kitchen table. Then he’d put me on his knee, hand me a spoon, and quiz me on the names of the animals. Every time I got one right, I dug in and scooped out a creamy, smooth, sugar-laden spoonful of luscious peanut butter and ate it. Every time I got one wrong, my dad dug in and ate a spoonful.
I remember the animals so clearly, and the size of the scoops he managed to maneuver out of that bucket and into his mouth. That was rare and sacred time spent with my dad. I couldn’t have been happier or felt safer during our little ritual. My palate has since matured, and I prefer natural crunchy out of a jar (still with a spoon), but need I say more about why my affection for peanut butter runs deep. And why peanut butter is a constant and a comfort.
By the time I started grade school, I was begging for peanut butter with clear purple grape jelly on gooey white bread, like my friends brought to school, but my mother insisted on more natural jams filled with seeds, or worse, the dreaded orange marmalade. And if that wasn’t bad enough, it was smeared between two pieces of egg bread, or, god forbid, a sliced bagel. At this time, we had moved from Boston to Pasadena, California, home of the John Birch Society and stuffy old money. It was the 1960s West Coast, and bagels were not the ubiquitous carbohydrate that they are here today. Pulling a bagel sandwich out of my brown paper lunch bag was like pulling out a huge neon sign flashing the message: “I’m a Jew, stare at me.”
When I was old enough to make my own sandwiches, I would slather on the peanut butter so thick that it would ooze out the sides when I ate it. I still do that. Over my lifetime, I’ve gone through peanut butter obsessions: peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, peanut butter pizza, peanut butter and chocolate fudge sauce on a spoon (the greatest trio since the Jimi Hendrix Experience). I even occasionally dabble in other nut butters like almond and cashew, but I always come back to the peanut.
I helped take care of my dad for the last year of his life, and had the opportunity to make him plenty of PB&J sandwiches, and to share our favorite, crunchy peanut butter right out of the jar. I always say the only thing I would consider permanently tattooing on my body, because I know my affection for it will never wane, is a tiny peanut butter jar. Or maybe a tin bucket with animals on it . . . and a spoon.
Miss you, Dad.
— Lisa Roth