Pickle – n. Bitter, semi-crunchy, mysteriously preserved, zombie-like remnant of a once innocent and delicious cucumber. Awful, unnatural, and quite possibly blasphemous.
Mondays are my days off and every week I look forward to having lunch at the little ‘mom and pop’ sandwich shop here in town, Live Oak Subs. These folks know how to unleash the true power of Sandwich (that’s right, capital ‘S’). Every sub is made with love. The meat is sliced thin and laid on with care, positioned just so. The tomatoes are always ripe and placed perfectly centered just where they belong. Red Onions are properly sliced and arranged and never substituted with onions of lesser pedigree. All these and more lay between two pieces of soft homemade wheat bread that is never too thick nor the crust ever too hard and it’s all wrapped up with care so that when I sit at my table and unfold the wax paper, I’m greeted with a perfectly neat, unmangled, kaleidoscopic vision of colorful, sandwichy goodness. Oh, be still my rumbling tummy.
But what’s this? Wrapped up alongside this bit of lunchtime glory is a long spear of a sickly-green dill pickle and it’s bleeding its drippings all over my sandwich. I wrinkle up my nose at first and pick it up carefully between two fingers like a dangerous bit of biohazard but since I’m trying to eat healthier lately I decide it can’t be that bad and what the heck. Crunch. I eat it. And it is just as awful as I thought it would be. Thank goodness it’s gone. I giddily catch up my sandwich and find that an amazing thing has happened. The pickle has bittered my mouth and left all my tastebuds parched and agonzing for something sweet. When I bite into the sandwich its glory flows into the depths of my being in ways I never imagined possible. Praise the sandwich. I sit there eating and the people in the booths next to me eye me with with suspicion as I moan in pleasure and possibly even cry a little for joy.
When the last morsel of sub was gone I sat and considered the fact that it was the pickle that made the difference. Oh, the sandwich would have been good without it, but I certainly would not have appreciated it as much. But it was even more than that, the pickle actually prepared the way for the goodness to come. The pickle exposed the full glory of the sandwich I had previously taken for granted. It left my mouth soured and puckered and ready to welcome the nature of the feast that would follow.
I always eat my pickles now and I don’t complain. Thank God for pickles.
Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he’s the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.