Friday, August 21, 2009

Barbie and the Cow Tongue

I was listening to KRMP’s Open Mic this a.m. and Launa mentioned a family dish that she didn’t care much for called “Boom Boom”—which turned out to be beef tongue. Believe it or not, many countries and cultures eat the tongue of cows and other organ meats—liver, stomach, kidneys. Pork organ meats also include the intestines—chittlins, which are a Thanksgiving staple at my house—and I have family members that will walk a mile for some hog head cheese. Chicken livers and gizzards—fried and braised—are served in some of the best restaurants around the world. Unfortunately, organ meats are very high in cholesterol and are therefore no longer a part of my diet.

My Mom loved calf tongue. I think it was some kind of celebratory meal, because tongue is precisely what we had for dinner the night before I started grade school. Like so many Pre-K and kindergarten students this week, I was excited to be heading off to school and riding the big yellow bus! I had a brand new pink metal Barbie lunch box and—to my disappointment—a cold tongue sandwich on white with mayo—for my first school lunch! There was no way that my fellow 1st graders (we didn’t have pre-K and kindergarten back in the day in the country) were going to see me eating cow tongue! So, I hatched a plan!

When our class was dismissed for lunch, instead of retrieving my lunch box I took my milk money and apple out and pushed the box to the back of my cubby. Once in the cafeteria I purchased my chocolate milk and sat quietly eating my apple. When my teacher asked about my lunch I told her that I ate it on the bus on the way to school! Now this is where the story gets crazy and doesn’t make sense to anyone—except maybe a six-year-old.

At the end of the day, I left the lunch box in my cubby underneath my green nap rug! Why I did not throw the sandwich out and take the lunch box home is a mystery to me. I lied to my Mom and told her that I lost the lunch box. Needless to say she was pretty upset and told me that I “better find it” or I would wish that I did! This went on for a few days and finally I got some swats for “throwing away good money”! For the next nine months anytime my Mom was in a bad mood, she would bring up that lunch box and I would get extra swats!

I almost had my first heart attack at age six, when I walked in the classroom and my pink lunch box with the cow tongue inside was sitting on my desk! My teacher had found it hidden in the coat room and instructed me to take it home that afternoon. For the remainder of the day, I schemed as to how this could not and would not happen. When lunch time arrived, I grabbed the lunch box and returned to the coat room to retrieve my brown bag lunch. I took the pink lunch box and hid it in the cubby of a girl who had moved away and left a pink sweater behind. And there it stayed until the last day of school the following May!

What I didn’t know at the time was that one of the main duties for grade school teachers is to make sure the coat room is empty at the end of the school year. So when I arrived at school on what was suppose to be a joyous occasion, Barbie and the cow’s tongue was sitting on my desk. Despite my best efforts, I had been beaten! Gloom and doom road with me on the bus ride home. I slow dragged from the bus stop in anticipation of what was going to happen once I arrived home. I walked in the house, placed Barbie on the kitchen table and waited for my Mom to arrive.

She was filled with questions, excited that I had “found” the lunch box and that good money had been saved! It wasn’t until later that she opened the box. She shrieked and called me by my full name—first, middle, last! There was no longer a cow tongue on white with mayo, just a small ball of furry black! It looked like a baby field mouse; a perfect mold specimen. There was screaming on her part and crying (bellowing) on mine. The entire story—I “can’t” eat cow tongue, hiding the lunch box, lying to her and my teacher, deception, dread—came tumbling out. Why I spilled the beans, I do not know. She didn’t even realize that it was the tongue sandwich—it was unrecognizable!

The only answer I have been able to come up with in 50 years is quite simple. I was six-years-old. This explains why I didn’t throw the sandwich away in the very beginning and take the lunch box home. It also explains every other misstep and lie and why my Mom prolonged the inevitable for as long as she could and still make a lasting point.

After a couple of days of quaking in my sandals, my Mom instructed me to clean out the lunch box and that she wanted it looking good as new. Unfortunately, I had to go back and tell her that the box was clean, smelled good, but I could not get the rust out of the corner. With this “new knowledge” she sent me out back to the elm tree for a green, mid-May switch. With each swish came an admonishment about lying, scheming, throwing away good money, and beating some sense into me. To make matters worse, I had to carry that pink Barbie lunch box with the “cow tongue rust” all the way through 4th grade!

I think of the cow tongue sandwich on white with mayo every year when I see little children scampering off to school for the first time with their little lunch boxes and backpacks! I pray that they will retain that enthusiasm for school, for knowledge, and making new friends. I also pray that their snacks and lunches are nutritious and tasty. Most importantly, I pray that lying and deception will be foreign to them—at least until middle school!


  1. Your story is both poignant and hilarious. I don't remember this particular incident; however I do remember the cow tongue meals, the mere thought of it makes me a little nauseous. I do recall that I pretty much scarfed down anything our Mother prepared. I love you and thank you so very much for sharing this priceless moment in your life with all of us.

  2. Fred & Launa had a good time on air with this story on the Open Mic (KRMP 1140 Weekdays from 9:00 until 11:00 AM CDT--Oklahoma time). I wrote this after hearing Launa talk about cow tongue on air--she doesn't like it either. BTW--Listening Live via the Internet is easier:

    Thanks for commenting! I love you.