Stacks of cheese and baloney on white paper during making of mass quantities of sandwiches.

The Bologna Wars


James E Copple

It seemed like big trouble at the time, but a battle about bologna sandwiches ended up being the foundation of a legacy I cherish.

I was in fourth grade, and we were scratch-farmers living in Lee’s Summit, a Missouri suburb of Kansas City. We had a few horses, four pigs, about a dozen cattle, and a rambling pasture with enough grass for cattle to graze. The farmhouse was set back about a quarter-mile from the main road, and my mother’s pastime was tending a rose garden along the driveway fence that ran to the road. The bushes were thick, and the roses in bloom would spread wide across the gravel drive, their smell penetrating the air.

Each day during the school year, I would make my way down that road carrying a single burlap bag with my homework and the lunch my mother had prepared tucked deep in the side pocket. Every morning, mom would hand us our lunch and remind us that what we didn’t eat at lunch, we would eat at dinner.

My problem with that stern admonition was that I hated bologna sandwiches, and my mother was determined to feed us bologna sandwiches for lunch. She would slap the bologna between two slices of white bread, cover it in mustard and spread some very firm butter on one slice. She would then wrap it in wax paper (nobody wraps sandwiches in wax paper today). Before going further, let me be very clear about one thing – I HATE BOLOGNA sandwiches!

Every day at lunch, I would try to trade the sandwich with someone who loved bologna, but nobody likes bologna. The prospect of eating that sandwich for dinner was just too much to handle. If I threw it away at school, I would receive a rebuke from my teacher and the threat she would tell my parents that I wasn’t eating lunch.

So, I found another solution: When I got off the bus after school, I would stop halfway on that long walk up the driveway and pitch the dreaded bologna sandwich into the thickest part of the rose hedge. Mom would then inspect the bag and, finding no sandwich, life would be good. I followed this routine for months.

Then, on a warm day in April, I disembarked from the bus and noticed the rose bushes had been trimmed and pruned, which left the soil beneath them exposed. I walked past my normal dumpsite and saw no sandwiches. Hoping nature had seen them as compost, I headed to the farmhouse. But when I walked through the front door, I saw sandwiches wrapped in wax paper piled on the kitchen table.

My mother looked at me and simply said, “We will discuss this when your dad gets home.”

My mind immediately went into panic mode – he will make me eat those sandwiches! By the way, it seemed wax paper could preserve a bologna sandwich against rain, hail, snow, and curious wildlife. My next thought was that he would make me pay for the bologna sandwiches. I checked my piggy bank and only had five dollars.

So, the next move was to grab a suitcase; fill it with enough clothes for survival; and escape out the back door for the five-mile hike to grandma’s house. I immediately began to execute that plan and had walked about a half-mile when I realized it was a stupid idea. I was grandma’s favorite, but she had an unwavering sense of frugality and no tolerance for waste. She would turn my butt around and tell me to go home to face the music.

Back home I went.

Fifteen minutes later, I could hear the roar of dad’s ‘54 Ford pick-up in the driveway.  As soon as he got in the house, I could hear intense conversation between my parents, discussing their strategy and response. I couldn’t wait any longer – I knew I would have to face the music, so I ran into the kitchen.

My father, a giant of a man, quickly pivoted and looked down at my 9-year-old self. Before he could say anything, I raised my hand and pointed a finger in his face (what was I thinking?), saying in a loud and firm voice: “I hate bologna sandwiches; everybody knows I hate bologna sandwiches; and nothing you do will ever force me to eat bologna sandwiches!”

I had never dared speak to him in that tone, much less point my finger in his face. I then added, as if I needed to, “And I am dead serious.”

I was waiting for the back of his hand to come swinging across my face for such insubordination. He never hit us in the face (it was usually a belt across the backside), but this was different. It was direct confrontation. We stood there, man-to-man (well, fourth-grader-to-man). And nothing happened.

After what seemed like an eternity, he knelt to my level, began laughing, and said: “Now that I know you are serious, no more bologna sandwiches. You stood your ground, but you will have to unwrap those sandwiches and put them, one by one, into the feed trough for the pigs. Got it?”

I replied with a quivering voice: “Yes, sir. Will the pigs eat bologna?”

“Pigs will eat anything,” he said.

It was my first direct confrontation with my father, and from that day forward, things changed. I was never a rebellious child – more compliant and conformist, but my dad never quite knew when I would once again point a finger in his face and demand my rights or position. I think he tested me sometimes, but I saved my powder for the important stuff.

I think dad knew, somehow, that I would eventually fight for what I believed in, and that is a legacy I cherish.

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