Sloppy Joes and Jiffy Pop

When I was younger, I was assigned a cake that I supposedly loved by my parents and that cake appeared every year for my birthday. Each of my parents’ children had this in our family, and I almost think it was a way for my parents to keep their kids straight, their personalities.

For many years, my designated cake was angel food, and after I turned about twelve, it turned into cheesecake with cherry pie filling on top. One year I ate three pieces, and it made me vomitously sick. I didn’t like cherry cheesecake anymore, and even more, I didn’t like what it represented. I wanted to become a sophisticated, urban professional, and cheesecake from a mix with cherry pie filling on top did not represent that to me. I wanted to be crème brûlée or a pear tart.

I moved to Portland, Oregon, in my early twenties—more than 1,500 miles away from my parents—and it was exhilarating. I was becoming the independent, hip person I thought I should be, hanging out with people in the band scene, who were cooks in bars during the day or on nights they weren’t playing.

After not seeing my family for four months, I went home for the holidays, and they showed me love with the old family favorites that my new friends in Portland would never understand: sloppy joes and popcorn, Shake N Bake pork chops. And my mother brought home a package of cheesecake mix and a can of cherry pie filling, wanting to treat me, though it wasn’t my birthday. She wanted to mix the cheesecake up for me, but I said I was too full, I would have to skip it on this visit.

Mom’s Shake N Bake pork chops


I had too many presents to fit into the luggage I had brought with me, so my mother unearthed a sky-blue hard-shell Samsonite suitcase circa 1973 that my family had been using since I was a kid. While I was getting ready to go back home to Portland, she packed up my presents and “a few other things,” she said.

After my flight into PDX, I went to pick up my luggage at the carousel and found the other passengers looking on with disgust and puzzlement as they picked up their suitcases and bags, most of which were dusted with a fine, yellowish powder. Weird, I thought, and looked for my bags. Then I spied a can of cherry pie filling rolling along the metal panels of the carousel with a thunk, thunk, thunk. My stomach dropped. A few rotations later, and there was the Samsonite suitcase laying open like a butterfly. It had opened when it hit the conveyor belt, exploding the box of cheesecake mix that my mother had tucked into my luggage. I grabbed that can of pie filling, my other bags, and the exploded suitcase and ran for a cab.

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