In the late 70’s and the early 80’s, fast food, at least for my family, was still not an every day occurrence. I’m not sure if it just wasn’t as affordable as it is now or if eating at home was cheaper then or if people are running around too much now. Nevertheless, a trip to McDonalds was a special occurrence for my sister and me. Special meaning, we went maybe 5 times a year including the time we could get a hamburger for free on our birthday. You could register with McDonalds as a child and then receive a post card on your birthday for a free hamburger. It was a big deal. My sister once got to have a birthday party at McDonalds. She and I considered that to be probably the coolest birthday party ever between the 2 of us.
My stay-at-home mom did all the cooking except for BBQ. My dad BBQed every chance he had. But mostly, she cooked. Nothing complex and mostly everything was relatively inexpensive. Cooking and eating at home was still a fundamental family affair whether or not my dad was there. She even made S.O.S. She told me that truck drivers often ordered this on the road. It stood for “shit on a shingle” and consisted of 2 slices of bread smothered with gravy and tidbits of beef. Good stick-to-your ribs trucker food. How an upper middle class girl learned to make S.O.S. is beyond me.
Meals came and went. Nothing special really. They were a means to an end which was energy to keep going. Pickiness wasn’t allowed. Eat or go hungry. Simple. I preferred to eat over hunger.
But then, one day, my 9th district cop dad brought home something entirely new to my world.
First of all, the fact that he was home for dinner was special. He worked umpteen number of jobs as a cop, as an off-duty cop and moonlighted as a handyman helping buddies finish basements. And so I’ve been told, he oftentimes decompressed after many tough hours on some of St. Louis’ toughest streets with his buddies at a bar or 2…
What he brought home that one eye-opening day was a large, greased stained, paper bag. Inside were smaller, Asian decorated little boxes. My dad pulled out each box. He must have had 10 inside. It was like a Chinese Christmas or rather, a Chinese New Year. He opened up a couple of boxes to show me their contents.
“This is Peking duck,” He said while taking a piece of the dark, sauce covered meet and bringing it to my mouth.
Explosions went off inside my mouth like Chinese firecrackers.
Did he say duck? I’m sure I wondered.
Eh, who cares. He’s fed me deer, squirrel, rabbit, and who knows what else as spoils from hunting trips. This Chinese duck is all right with me.
The sugary, red sauce mixed expertly with the savory meat.
He opened another box and showed me chicken fried rice. A fried egg crowned the top of the complex rice.
After opening several other magical boxes, he pulled out chop sticks and broke them in half and showed me how to use them. He fumbled himself and opted for a plastic fork instead. I peered inside the bag and pulled out a handful of other treasures.
“These are fortune cookies,” He said.
He took one, opened it and showed me the little paper inside. “It’s your fortune. Then you eat the cookie.”
Mind officially blown! Why had we eaten the way we had all these years when Chinese food existed all this time? The flavors, the cute adorable boxes, the fortune cookies! What were they thinking!
After the best culinary day of my life, Chinese food became a new normal in our household. When I was older, I found out that we ate Chinese food so often because a Chinese food restaurant operated in my dad’s district, but they got robbed over and over. So, the owner decided to give cops free food. Once word spread about the free food, cops came like roaches. Apparently, they didn’t get robbed anymore.