Lard Sandwiches: A Lesson in Polish

Like our family in the nineteen-fifties, Carl and Elsie Jastrebski were immigrants to Canada and Northern Ontario, though they came from Eastern Europe – Poland or Czechoslovakia, perhaps. Like my father, Carl was an underground gold miner for the Hollinger Mine in Timmins, a town of 18,000 with a very long winter, whose only industries were the gold mine and Doran’s Brewery.

A thirty-minute lunch was taken, basically where the men were working, a mile or so deep in the ground. Lunch was what your wife packed for you in your lunchpail – sandwiches, maybe a piece of pie and coffee or tea from your thermos bottle.

One day, Carl Jastrebski, a mile deep and long before vending machines, had lard sandwiches for his lunch. His wife had not given him his usual balogna, or salami or pastrami or ham and cheese, but lard… rendered animal fat.

Probably ten years old at the time, I asked why.

Every day Elsie Jastrebski asked her husband what kind of sandwiches he wanted. Every day he replied, “Anything, it doesn’t matter.” Tired of making the decision and being imaginative, Elsie took her husband at his word and made him lard sandwiches.

Carl Jastrebski is not the only one who learned a lesson that day. Ever since then, particularly into adulthood, whenever I have been asked by whomever I was with, “What would you like for supper?”, or, if out shopping or on vacation, “Where would you like to eat?”, I have always thought for a moment and given a single, specific reply, “Fish.” or “Sloppy Joe’s.” or “Chicken breast and mashed potatoes”. If not at home, I have named a restaurant, fast food place or type of food, “Wendy’s”, “Arby’s”, “Mexican”, Italian”, “Chinese”.

My suggestion was either accepted or discussed, “Naw, we had Tex-Mex the other day. How about just Waffle House?”

“Fine with me.”

I feel that what  I suggested was not terribly important. What was  important was that I made an effort, I had input, the responsibility was not all one-sided.

Many years ago I knew a woman named Crazy Judy. She believed she was an expert on relationships because she had been in so many that had failed. She now knew the pitfalls. Regardless of how many errors I have made over the years, I will never be an expert. I have learned, though, that small things are important. Such as, answering specifically when asked.  Never, “I don’t know, I don’t care, it doesn’t matter.”

Dabbling in dating sites, I have noticed that the number one quality a women is looking for in a man, is ‘confidence’. Initially, I thought that meant vanity or conceit. But I think it also includes having the self-assuredness to make a decision. How many ex-wives on these sites spent too many years married to a man whose favorite reply was, “It doesn’t matter”, leaving the decision-making to her.

The majority of us lead quiet, unheralded lives as we pass through this world. There will most likely be no ticker-tape parades for us, no monuments created in our honor.

But that does not lessen our possible impact, for there are scores of people waiting for someone just like us to come along; people who will appreciate our compassion, our unique talents. Someone who will live a happier life merely because we took the time to share what we had to give.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have a potential to turn a life around. It’s overwhelming to consider the continuous opportunities there are to make our love felt.                                                                               (Leo Buscaglia)

Few of us will cure cancer or be Mother Theresa. All of us can ask after a sick friend. Recently feeling poorly, I went to the pharmacy. Checking out with a cold remedy, the cashier said, “I hope you get to feeling better.”

I felt half-cured!

It truly is  the little – sometimes spontaneous – deeds that can make all the difference in the world.

Thank you Elsie Jastrebski.

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