My father loved me very much. Yet another testament to this love would be my very first bento.
In 2007, as a means to battle depression and fight weight gain (er- to encourage weight loss, really, as I’d already gained the weight), I began making bento for myself to bring to work. I’d just ended a four year relationship – my longest relationship ever – had moved back home and basically hated my life, and the only thing I looked forward to each day was lunch, because I put effort into making myself feel loved. Someone was taking care of me; even if that person was me, I knew I was loved.
One morning, as I packed my bento for the day, my mom watched, drinking her cup of coffee. Though I concentrated on the task at hand, my mother chuckled suddenly, breaking the silence.
“What?” I asked tentatively. Sometimes my mother would say something that would rub me the wrong way– and early morning is really not the time to poke me.
“Nothing,” she said thoughtfully. “Just thinking, what would your dad say if he saw you doing this now.”
I continued adding the finishing touches to my lunch, and responded, “Probably ‘hey, you’re doing that wrong, don’t put that there, put it here, no put this there and that here… oh just let me do it,’ and then push me aside to do it himself.”
My mom laughed and agreed. Dad passed away in October 2000.
As I commuted to work that morning, I thought about the brief conversation I’d had with my mother. It’s true, my father would undoubtedly tell me what I was doing wrong and try to correct it, even though at the time, I was a ‘grown’ woman of 26. But a memory niggled at the corner of my mind…
When I was a junior in high school, my friends and I got into Lunchables – those compartmentalized little lunches with crackers, mustard, deli meats, cheese slices, and a piece of chocolate. But in high school, I had so little money that it wasn’t prudent to try to keep buying these, and my mom refused to buy me them for lunch. Fair enough.
I figured out what kinds of crackers they were (Keebler Club Crackers… so buttery and so good!), and began packing my own style of Lunchables. Cheese slices, a bit of mayo, Club crackers, slices of whatever cold cuts my mother had bought, whatever. I did this a few times before one day, a so-called friend of mine made fun of my homemade Lunchable (honestly, my homemade Lunchables were way better than what was available; I never saw roast beef in Lunchables!). So the next morning, I didn’t pack anything, and my father commented on my lack of lunch. I don’t remember what I said – probably something sullen and teenager-ly – and went on my way.
The day after that, as I was leaving, my father stopped me and handed me a Pyrex container. “For lunch,” he said. We didn’t say things like “I love you,” but we fed each other. I may or may not have thanked him, shoved it in my bag, and went to school.
I still remember where I was sitting when I took it out of my bag. I was on the 5th floor, outside my French class, when I opened my backpack and found the box. “What’s that?” someone may have asked me. I may have shrugged, “My dad made me lunch,” or simply “lunch” or nothing at all. I don’t know. I don’t really remember those finer details.
I do remember sitting on the bench they’d put there, and I do remember opening the container to find lunch. It’d shifted in transit, as I’d shoved it into my bag on its side while I went to school – but there it was. Half of a deviled egg; a sandwich, cut into square quarters and packed on their edges; a loose mess of lightly dressed salad that had gotten everywhere.
I ate every last bit.
I remember that was the only time he made me lunch like that; he might have asked me when I got home how lunch was, and I might have said it was good, but that the container (Pyrex as it was) was too heavy to comfortably take to school every day.
It took years for this memory to resurface, but thinking about it still brings tears to my eyes. Perhaps I never thought of it as bento back then, but I find everything that I do today, especially with regard to food, comes back to my father.
Bento helped me lose 17 pounds (that I eventually gained back, and then some), and remember this nugget of happiness. I sort of recreated that first bento here, but it’s yet another reminder that everything I do, everything I am, everything I eat… comes from my father.
This Halloween, it will be 12 years since he died.