Volume 18, Number 101, February/March 2015 Mission Toasted Marshmallow by Gary C. Kaustinen
The first time I begged for a toasted marshmallow was in 1966. I was four. My family lived in a newly- built subdivision in Ottawa. The only trees in our neighbourhood were saplings that dotted the streets like sticks. It was a fairly idyllic upbringing. There were lots of other kids in the neighbourhood to play with. In our backyard my father made a large sandbox. My brother Jake and I played in it with our toy trucks. My brother Jake was five so he bossed me around a bit. Our house was a split level, perfect for us to play hide and seek in. Jake and I ran around bumbling, tripping on stairs. Our parents put up with a lot from us. We were rambunctious tikes, always running around. Kids being kids and all that.
That July was sweltering. Jake and I cooled off by leaning against a brick wall in the shade. We ran though a sprinkler but soon grew tired of all that. Both of us were cranky and miserable. Jake ran away suddenly. I ran to catch up. I ran as fast as my little legs would carry me. It took me a while. I was four, after all.
I heard Jake say to one of the kids, What we need is popsicles. Mom was in a foul mood so asking her was out of the question. Jake and a bunch of kids got on their tricycles and pedaled door to door to get them from our mothers. The trike gang spread over the street like they owned it. I was only four but I had a little trike too. Eventually I caught up with them. When I did the whole gang were hopped up on sugar and busy planning their next assault. They pedaled house to house while I trailed behind. My bathing suit was rank with sweat but I didn’t care. I pedaled fast to catch up to them.
The next stop was Brian’s. His mother had just finished dolling out popsicles when he said, Thanks Mom, that’s six! We all said, Awww?! and Jake gave him a shove. Brian’s mom phoned the other moms to warn them. Don’t give them any more! They’ve had enough! We took off on our trikes and pedaled like banshees back to our house before mom got the call. Jake rode in front. Then Brian overtook him, breaking the rule that whatever kid’s house we rode to, that kid led the way. Brian pedaled like crazy but Jake stood up high on his trike and caught up. Jake’s trike sideswiped Brian’s and Brian fell down and cried. We circled around to watch Jake beat him up. A mother ran across the street and broke up the fight. We didn’t get any more popsicles for a while after that.
So it wasn’t a completely idyllic childhood, if there is such a thing. Even as kids there are rules to obey and consequences that followed. I didn’t like rules. I was happy to be left behind and away from trouble. I may have been four but I wasn’t a complete idiot. I learned two things from the popsicle episode. First: stay away from my brother when he’s angry. Second: you could get anything you wanted simply by asking for it. That was something I wouldn’t forget.
Jake was about to start kindergarten. Mom was late making breakfast. She yelled at us to get dressed but we didn’t care. We were still in pajamas and played Cowboys and Indians. Jake had a toy gun so he was the Cowboy. The way we played was always the same: I’d hide and Jake would find me and shoot me dead. I ducked behind couches and chairs but soon I’d had enough. Just once I want to be Cowboy, I thought. If I was the Cowboy, I’d ride a horse. If I was the Cowboy, I’d sing songs by the campfire. If I was the Cowboy, I’d toast marshmallows ... Mmmm marshmallows, I drooled. I could taste them. I had to have one right away.
I smelt breakfast and quit playing. Jake called me a baby. Normally I would have cried but I was on a mission; Mission Toasted Marshmallow.
Hurry up and get dressed, Mom yelled, NOW!
I crept quietly to the kitchen using my Indian scouting skills. From the doorway I spied mom stirring porridge. Yuck. I thought. I need a toasted marshmallow. I backed up to avoid being seen. Asking mom for a toasted marshmallow was out of the question. She was busy making breakfast and I knew she’d say no.
The phone rang. Mom answered. It was Dad. He was away on a business trip.
Oh hello, darling!
But it’s always important...
You have a family here too, you know....
No, they’re fine. I can barely hear you...! Said they’re fine... No, nothing’s wrong. Why would you say that? No, l didn’t say I wasn’t satisfied. Do you want me to hang up right now? Well, I’d be happier, if you tried harder. You heard me....
No, 1’m not going to apologize.... Then you shouldn’t drink so much....I know you work hard, I’m not disputing that... Hold on a minute, dear...
She turned to Jake and whispered, Jake, be a good boy and go get your brother. Tell him breakfast is ready. That’s a good boy.
Yes dear. Yes, we’ll talk about it later. Hold on a minute, please...
What do you mean, he’s not upstairs? Check the bathroom. Hurry! Well, GO LOOK AGAIN!
Honey, could I call you back in a minute? No, everything’s fine. Kisses.
She hung up.
I’d already snuck out of the house. I was still wearing pajamas but I didn’t care. I was on a mission; Mission Toasted Marshmallow. I canvassed the neighbourhood, knocking on doors. Begging for toasted marshmallows was easy enough. Getting one was hard, almost next to impossible. I grew tired of doors being slammed in my face. I stretched up on my toes and rang another bell. A lady in her nighty opened the door. It was Mrs. Saunders. I recognized her from a party. She wore curlers with a bonnet that covered her head. What do you want?, she asked.
I went straight to my pitch, I wanna toasted marshmallow!
A marshmallow? she laughed, I don’t have any marshmallows.
I wailed and she pleaded, Don’t cry! She pulled my hands away from my face and took me inside. I wiped my face and thought, That was easy. Why didn’t I think of crying before? 1 could’ve been eating marshmallows by now.
Mrs. Saunders dragged me into her kitchen and handed me a little box of raisins. Marshmallows! I stomped. She rolled her eyes and searched her cabinets. Lo and behold she found a bag. She tore it open with her teeth and handed me one. I want it toasted! I stomped. She sighed, dragged a chair over to the counter and lifted me up. She got a fork and stabbed a marshmallow. Huffing she said, Watch this. Rolling up her cuffs, she turned on the toaster and showed me how to turn the marshmallow over so it wouldn’t burn. I grabbed the toasted treat and popped it in my mouth. Perfect. I didn’t like burnt marshmallows. They should be yellowish-brown. I took the fork and stabbed a white puff, turning it over the toaster till it was toasted. It smelt so good. I raked the warm goo off the fork with my teeth. I was in marshmallow heaven! I grabbed the bag, forked another one and turned the toaster back on. Once done, I popped the warm treat in my mouth. Mmmmm... I closed my eyes as the soft goo melted way back in my throat. I stabbed another and toasted it with as much concentration as my four years could muster. Mrs. Saunders picked up the phone and dialed. I snacked on while
Grace? She said It’s Betty. Betty Saunders, your neighbour? Yes, no he’s fine, he’s.. Gracey, calm down ... now look ... He’s over here toasting a marshmallow....
I SAID HE’S OVER HERE TOASTING A MARSHMALLOW! Now come on, Gracey. Would I make something like that up?