Moldy Wonder Bread and Other Life Lessons

It was the summer of 1970-something. Most likely, it was the first week of July because that was my family’s traditional vacation week. Also, most likely, that vacation week took place somewhere in Arkansas or Missouri. For years I thought the Ozarks had some sort of mystical pull on my parents, but I later realized we vacationed in the Ozarks because we could get there in one day of solid driving from our home in North Texas. One day to get there. Four days to see the such amazing sights as Dogpatch USA. One day to get home. And one day for my parents to recuperate from our jet setting lifestyle.

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Travel on a Shoestring Budget

Our blue Pontiac was roughly the size of an ocean liner, yet, ironically, had no seat for the baby of the family to call her own. I sat on the seat belt buckles between my parents, while my older sister and brother fought over land rights like Israel and Palestine in the back seat. It was the 70s and it seemed that, in the 70s, people didn’t need seat belts. Apparently, we were heartier back then.

The ample trunk space was filled with suitcases and an ice chest, which contained such delicacies as Miracle Whip, potted meat, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and soft drinks. A loaf of Wonder Bread and bags of chips had been carefully positioned to avoid ending up with squished bread and bags of chip dust. It’s not that I have a photographic memory. It’s that we were creatures of habit and we weren’t made of money. That ice chest was to us what gunny sacks filled with hardtack were for the early pioneers.

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Best Thing Since Unsliced Bread

During this particular year we did make a stop, however. We visited some place that sold tiny loaves of Wonder Bread. It could have been a factory or a bakery. I’m fuzzy on the specifics, but I vividly recall my rapturous joy when my father purchased three tiny loaves of bread.  I knew those loaves were not like the regular loaf we had scarfed at some rest stop. Those weren’t scarfing loaves. They were savoring loaves. When I looked at my precious little loaf, it took my breath away. It wasn’t even sliced! It was a real, old-fashioned loaf!  It was magical. It looked like a loaf of bread for one of my sister’s dolls whose hair I had cut and whose eyelashes I had mostly plucked out. Those dolls were hot messes, but they would have looked cute eating miniature bread.

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Meanwhile, Peace Talks Continued in the Backseat

We were still in the parking lot of the bread place when my young brain hatched a plan. In the backseat, Israel and Palestine had declared a ceasefire and were breaking tiny bread together. But I… I was going to save mine! As seat belt buckles jabbed into my thighs and tushy, I smiled to myself. I imagined how envious my siblings would be when I pulled out my loaf of bread in a few days and ate it in front of them! I stashed my little loaf beneath the front seat and waited, like the maniacally frugal mastermind I was. 

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Penicillin Starter Kit 

As the S.S. Pontiac began its voyage back to Texas, I plucked my plastic bag from its hiding place. That’s when I learned about mold. My adorable, little loaf of bread was no longer a golden brown. It was green. And more fuzzy than my memory. It was in no condition to make anyone envious. It wasn’t even fit for a hot mess of a doll. My father threw the penicillin starter kit into the garbage. I hadn’t even had one bite of tiny bread. Not one bite.

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What’s Latin for Wonder Bread?

That day I learned about more than mold. A saver by nature, I learned that sometimes you should just dig in while you have the chance. Sometimes you’ve gotta Carpe Panis Mirabilis–seize the Wonder Bread!