Today I am grateful for ring bologna. How’s that for a stretch? For those of you not familiar with the fine cuisine of country folk and others, primarily in the Midwest, don’t feel bad. I hadn’t thought about it for years until I stumbled upon this sign at the Elks Club in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, where I grew up. Allow me to enlighten you.
Picture a very fat hot dog, but not the kind that Ballpark or Oscar Mayer makes. This is not a naked hot dog with a soggy skin and no core. This is a large sausage that has a significant skin on it (let it go. . .something’s are too easy) to hold the flavor in and is bent to look like the top portion of an exclamation point made by a first grader.
When I was a diversity trainer for new teacher inductees, we were required to share our culture through a Personal Perspective. I was terrified. I was embarrassed to admit that I grew up in a town with NO black people. None. And yes we used the term black people then and not the politically correct African American, which I was told recently by some black friends, can offend some islanders. Geeze. Will we never stop with the labels and just accept “people”? There might have been three Hispanics but I’m not sure if they lived there or just came into town to work at the tannery. It sounds awful! I know! What kind of horrible Personal Perspective will I have? I’m white. I don’t have culture.
Hispanic people have culture and I’m so glad because otherwise I wouldn’t know about salsa dancing and taco’s and tequila. Chinese culture is steeped in bright silks, traditional dance, General Tso’s chicken and the Great Wall. Now that’s culture! Many black people can trace their ancestry back to remote spots in the wonderful drumbeats of Africa or other islands; or far worse, to horrible experiences they’ve had encountering racial prejudice and profiling in the south or other parts of the country. . . or sadly, the rest of the world. Some black people are proud of the colorful clothing, big hats and rich voices they heard in church; or the rich, hearty fried chicken, black eyed peas and sweet potato pies their mama’s made. I could go on and on. . .but I’m white. How can a white person have a culture? A Personal Perspective?
Then a colleague shared a story. She was from a farm in Ohio or Western Pennsylvania, had gone to college, became a teacher and was feeling very cosmopolitan when she was invited to a cocktail party and asked to bring a hors d’oeuvre. The table was full of saucy chicken wings, dim sum, egg roll, crudité. She placed her contribution, a foil covered dinner plate on the table and went to the bar for a glass of red wine with 7-Up, on the rocks, which is what her parents passed off as a cocktail, except this was not Mogen David. This wine was French. Ooo la la. And bitter. She hated it.
The hostess, seeing a new plate on the table, took the foil off and people started to snicker. There on the plate, arranged in a beautiful every-other spiral pattern, was my friends sliced ring bologna and cheddar cheese, her family’s version of a hors d’oeuvre.
When she shared that story I realized that I, too, had a culture in my background, just like the Hispanics, Chinese and black people do. I only had to look at it from a different perspective. My perspective. My PERSONAL perspective. I had the polka music and dancing loved by my dad; the classical music loved by my mom; the fantastic family recipe for German potato salad; my grandma’s callused fingers as she reached in the boiling pot to check the carrots for doneness; the rare stops at Dairy Queen for a small cone and nothing more because “we can’t afford it.”
I am grateful that seeing the sign at the Elks Club snapped me back to my grandparents farm, which was a huge part of my culture. . .and the smell of ring bologna, sizzling in a cast iron frying pan, edges crystalizing to perfect crunchy crispiness, getting ready to join the mustard slathered onto grandma’s hot, homemade white bread along with globs of “real”, melty butter. It is what it is. My personal perspective. Now I don’t deny my culture, I celebrate it. I’m not offended if someone doesn’t get it. Why should they? It’s mine, not theirs. How about you? What’s yours?