My dad puts marmalade on his turkey sandwiches.
He used to make the same sandwiches for me, from elementary to high school. Two slices of toasted Milton’s Multigrain bread, five to six slices turkey, marmalade. Sometimes, he’d put mayo too.
My classmates used to make fun of me, and even though I knew it wasn’t a Chinese thing, I wondered why my dad couldn’t get it right. He ate club sandwiches at Denny’s. Didn’t he ever wonder where the marmalade was?
I should have just made my own sandwiches, but my dad woke up earlier and by the time he woke me, the sandwiches were already made.
This afternoon, I come into the kitchen around noon and see the familiar spread. My dad is slathering Smucker’s marmalade (a terrible brand) onto slices of turkey breast.
I make a face.
“Bah,” I say, “Very few people put marmalade on a turkey sandwich.”
He licks the knife and closes the sandwich.
“Very few people are smart,” he says.
Later, he tries Vegemite for the first time.
“What is this, ‘vege’ thing Tom’s left here?” he asks, taking the small, yellow-labelled jar out of the pantry, “Does it need to be refrigerated?”
“No,” I say, “It’ll never go bad. Just leave it.”
“Does Tom need it? Do you want to bring it back to him?”
My dad dislikes it when we leave our things behind in common areas. Now that he and my mother are empty nesters, the less trace we have of ourselves in their house, the better. But it’s hard to remember that my parents’ house is now, in fact, my parents’ house.
“No,” I say, “He wants to leave a jar here so he has it when we visit. Otherwise we have to buy a jar every time we come here.”
Reluctantly, he starts to put it in the way back of the pantry but then asks, “Is it good?”
“It’s not,” I say, “But he grew up eating it. It’s very salty.”
“I’m going to try it.”
“You can’t just spoon it out and take a big bite,” I advise, “You should put it on toast with butter.”
My father disregards the toast with butter advice. He already has a turkey-marmalade sandwich so he doesn’t necessarily have the stomach for another slice of toast. I also don’t think it’s a good idea to mix Vegemite with Marmalade, but I suppose stranger combinations exist.
He takes the marmalade knife, wipes it down and scrapes a tiny amount of Vegemite. Eats it.
“How is it?” I ask.
He grimaces, “It’s not.”
He closes the jar, looks at it like it’s face cream my mom accidentally left on his dresser and takes off his glasses. Tries to read the label.
“Words are too damn small,” he says, “What is this thing. Who eats this? People from where?”
“Australians,” I said.
My dad looks up, and I can’t believe this conversation is happening again.
“So Tom is Australian,” he says, wonderingly.
“He’s American,” I say, “But his mom is Australian.”
“He was born in Australia?”
“Tom was born here,” I am impatient, “Bah, this is the umpteenth time I’ve told you all this.”
“So his mom is Australian.”
My father suddenly looks thoughtful.
“She’s Australian,” he repeats, and draws the obvious conclusion: “Like Mel Gibson.”