I read an article in the paper yesterday about the history of McDonalds' Filet-o-Fish sandwiches. Reading about this sandwich reminded me of the Tale (perhaps I should say "Tail") of Deception that surrounded the Filet-o-Fish sandwich of my childhood.
Fish sandwiches were introduced at McDonalds when I was in elementary school. I was a picky eater and the Filet-o-Fish was one of the only sandwiches I liked. Back in those days, there were no special orders: You took the sandwich the way it was made, complete with tartar sauce and cheddar cheese. Yet as far as I knew, there was no cheese whatsoever on the Filet-o-Fish sandwich. I despised cheese of all kinds, especially cheddar cheese (still do, in fact). I never would have gone near a Filet-o-Fish had there been cheese on it.
One day when I was in third grade, the Tale of Deception came to light. My mother went to the hospital to have surgery and during her confinement, my grandma took me to McDonalds. I ordered my usual Filet-o-Fish and upon opening the wrapper, I was shocked to find it was coated with a slimy film of cheddar cheese. I still remember sitting in the back seat of Grandma's car, tearfully wondering when and why McDonalds had started putting cheese on the Filet-o-Fish sandwiches, which had been perfectly fine without it.
The truth, as confessed by my still hospital-bound mother, was this: Each time we went to McDonalds, she scraped off the cheese with the end of a plastic straw before giving me the sandwich. She had to be sly and quick about it, lest I see what was happening. My grandma hadn't been privy to the details of this secret operation and unknowingly handed me the sandwich intact.
The truth about Filet-o-Fish sandwiches was revealed to me that day, and somehow things between my parents and me were never quite the same. Yet little did I know that this was not the end of it: I had been deceived about other dairy products as well.
After college, I moved to Chicago. Following my first grocery shopping trip, I phoned my parents in some distress because I could not find our hometown brand of sour cream. This was a puzzle to me, because I remembered that no matter where we had traveled in our pick-up camper during my childhood, from East Coast to West, my parents would stop at local grocery stores and purchase Anderson-Erickson Dairy products. No matter where we journeyed in our camper, the milk for my morning cereal came from an AE carton. To my knowledge, the entire nation enjoyed AE sour cream and cottage cheese, not to mention the myriad flavors of AE ice cream.
"Oh, dear. I think there is something we've forgotten to tell her," Mom whispered to Dad on the other end of the phone line. As a child, I was not only a picky eater but highly brand-sensitive as well. In an elaborate scheme to avoid confrontation with me on our summer vacations, they had taken empty AE containers around the country and covertly filled them with local products.
Now, I harbor no real ill-will against my parents for these Tales of Deception. But I have asked them to think -- think really hard -- and remember if there is anything else they've forgotten to tell me. Is there anything about the tree fairies that I should know? Or that special test they made me take in Kindergarten? What about the lost grey kitten? Or my third grade teacher? Or the place where I was born? And while we're at it, am I even who I think I am?
On my worst days, this childhood deception makes me wonder if all the things I believe to be true really are. On my best days, I just order the Chicken Selects instead.