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Credit: Courtesy of David Kelly Crow
personal essay

How a Forgotten Childhood Treat Reappeared as My Perfect Work-from-Home Snack

published Feb 24, 2021
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Every day at 3 p.m. it’s the same. After an already-long day at work, with too many meetings, you can find me slumped over my computer peering at my own visage in a Zoom square, wondering, like the Snow Queen, Who is that woman who looks so tired? And there’s only one snack that can break the spell: a single, golden graham cracker. 

My reunion with the humble graham cracker began literally under cloak of night, stealth and unexpected. In May, my husband and I invited another couple over for a socially-distanced campfire in our backyard. On a whim, I laid out s’mores fixings. As I listened intently to my friend, the principal of an elementary school, describe the chaos of online learning, my fingers instinctively broke one Nabisco Honey Maid Graham Cracker in half. I eased my roasted marshmallow onto its chocolate-y landing pad, snapped on the top square, and bit down — hard.

Time stopped. Or rather, it was thrown into reverse. I was back in kindergarten in Stamford, Connecticut. It was the 1960s. I wore dark blue Keds and lace-edged anklet socks every day; we sang Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land every morning; and were given one graham cracker and a tiny Dixie cup of Hi-C after naptime. 

To a small child, a graham cracker, although plain as can be — invented that way intentionally in the 1820s by a health-nut minister named Sylvester Graham — is the perfect snack. Slightly sweet with a dependable crunch, graham crackers are bigger than a cookie and could last up to 12 bites, if you broke each cracker into its four smaller rectangles and ate each in thirds (or at least that’s what I always did).

I must have let out a little groan when my teeth sank into that s’more around the campfire. My friend stopped mid-rant, looked me in the eye, and said archly: “It’s the graham cracker. Right?”

The following day, at 3 p.m. sharp, I plucked the Honey Maid box off the top of the fridge and extracted a single graham cracker. It looked like a wallflower without last night’s accoutrements. It was just a simple graham cracker — like a farm girl in a boring brown dress at a barn dance. Who would want to dance with her?

I did. Standing at my kitchen window, I ate that graham cracker, plowing through it with the speed of a beaver. Then, because I had no mother to stop me, I ate a second one, more slowly, each bite punctuated by that resolute crunch. I felt blanketed in momentary quiet, away from the screen, away from the world. 

As the days went by, I started adding embellishments to my new favorite work-from-home snack. A swipe of peanut butter with sea salt. Banana slices dusted with Saigon cinnamon. I found myself eagerly watching the clock function on my computer: 2:52, 2:57, 3 p.m.! What would I put on my graham cracker today?

Credit: Courtesy of David Kelly Crow

There were other choices for a snack — some of them delicious, and even more nutritious. Ten tiny slices of a clementine: high marks for vitamin C, no crumbs in your keyboard. A container of yogurt: A+ for calcium, comes in different flavors. I would have none of it. It was me and my graham cracker. Because it came with a better bonus: a Proustian crumb of my past, and just good memories.

One afternoon in October, my husband and I sank into the Adirondack chairs on our back porch, inhaling deeply what we both knew without naming it: The first hint of autumn hit our nostrils like not-quite-burnt toast. I held up a finger and said: “I’ll be right back.” My husband replied, as he always does, “I’ll be right here.”

After I grabbed the box of graham crackers, I yanked open the fridge door. My eyes alighted on a Tupperware of homemade cream cheese frosting, leftover from the streusel muffin recipe I had invented in a quarantine-induced baking frenzy. I heaped an Oreo-filling-thick layer of frosting on each graham cracker. My husband took one bite and said, “Don’t ever make this again,” which means “I love this.” 

I took a bite and then closed my eyes. I saw my 7-year-old self, falling backwards in dreamlike slow motion into a pile of leaves my father had freshly raked. The brown pointy edges of the leaves tickled my face, and Maggie, our Irish setter, bounded on top of me, her cold, wet nose nudging my hand.

Another afternoon, a Zoom meeting careened treacherously toward, then beyond, 3 p.m. I pretended to listen, but my mind was really on toppings. Homemade maple granola, perhaps? 

When that beacon-of-freedom appeared — “This meeting has been ended by the host” — I leapt from my chair and set to work. I lobbed the granola, straight from the oven and with Jackson Pollock abandon, onto my peanut butter-smeared graham cracker; it adhered like glitter to Elmer’s glue. It was fun! I remembered fun.

Every afternoon at 3 p.m., she waits for me in her family size box. Whether plain, like the farm girl, or dressed up, like her chic city cousin, my graham cracker snack is an edible meditation, ephemeral yet comforting, an infinite canvas for creativity.