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Sandwiched, Again

Caring for two generations

My favorite sandwich, maybe ever but definitely in my college days, was at a place called Quinton’s in Columbia, Mo., in the early aughts. Because it was the early aughts, Quinton’s was mostly a trendy martini bar (not real martinis, novelty martinis, with apple schnapps and Godiva liqueur, that sort of thing). I didn’t then and certainly don’t now have much use for novelty martinis. But I got in the habit of going there between my Tuesday/Thursday classes back in college and treating myself to a TAC – turkey, avocado, and cream cheese – on a croissant. (Back then, I could eat that twice a week and not gain weight. I miss being 21.)

Another great sandwich was The Harold at Homegrown Pizza on Elysian Fields – salami, provolone, arugula, and housemade pickled peppers. Now that I’m in my 40s, I could only eat it a few times a year, but I did so faithfully, until Homegrown Pizza closed after Hurricane Ida. 

Of course, there’s the oyster po’boy at Parkway, roast beef at R & O’s, and Central Grocery muffulettas. There’s the California Club at Martin’s Wine Cellar. The Uptowner from Reginelli’s. The Cuban at Norma’s. Clooney’s Choice from Milk Bar. Hook’s Cheddar from St. James Cheese Co. Lemongrass chicken banh mi from Ba Chi. Vinegary pulled pork from my dad’s hometown favorite The Red Pig in Concord, N.C. A garlic-laden Gerber sandwich from any restaurant on The Hill in St. Louis.  

My point is that, keto diet fads be damned, I love sandwiches. 

What I don’t love is being part of the so-called Sandwich Generation. Named because we’re “sandwiched” between our parents and our kids, we aren’t a time-sensitive generation like Baby Boomers and Gen X but more of an eternal situation. And I’m squarely in it.

My kids are older now, 10 and 15, but they still require a great deal of time and attention. And my dad is 84 and also requires a great deal of time and attention. 

In the past few weeks, as my older kid has been enrolling in driver’s ed and cruising cautiously around City Park and the cemeteries, hands reliably at 9 and 3 (10 and 2 is so ’90s), my dad has hit a post in the Rouses parking lot on the left side of his car and then, while waiting for the parts to come in to fix that mess, a trailer hitch on the right side of his car … and thus finally lost the use of his car. 

Taking his keys was not easy. It wasn’t easy for him because it meant the loss of his independence. And it wasn’t easy for me because it meant the loss of my freedom. If he can’t drive, I have to drive him. With three of his five ex-wives, two of his three children, both of his siblings, and many of his friends dead, it pretty much falls to me to pick up the slack.

It’s not that bad, honestly. There is something sacred about caring for a frail, elderly parent, nurturing them as they once nurtured you. 

But it’s complicated and often tense, the role reversal, the implicit infantilization of someone you once revered. 

All in all, as much as I consider it an honor to be cooking for my dad and helping him bathe and driving him to doctor’s appointments, parking near the elevator so he can manage with his walker … I’d still rather be 21, eating a sodium bomb of a sandwich just off-campus, not a care in the world, melted cream cheese dripping down my chin. 

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