Unforgettable People, Two — Tommy
Tommy was one of the good guys. When we lived in Maryland, his house was across the street from mine. We were buddies from ages four to five. We got along, I think, because each of us spent a lot of time inside our imaginations. Tommy’s was especially vivid and he enjoyed sharing about it.
“I got a new friend. He’s real silly and he calls himself Matches-Nannios.”
I loved the name. “What does he look like?”
“He’s real short. But he has a hat just like mine.”
The game was for me to ask more. “What’s Matches-Nannios doing?”
“Aw, he’s putting up his Christmas tree.” (It was the middle of summer.)
“What does he put on it?”
“His daddy’s ties and his mommy’s shoes.”
That Matches-Nannios. He was crazy.
Sometime later, Tommy added a second character. “His name is Baz-en-dooz-a-laz. He’s sillier than Matches-Nannios.”
“Why? What did Baz-en. . . do?”
“He ate a hot dog. With ice cream on it. And he drank milk with spinach in it.”
“Is he friends with Matches-Nannios?”
“Naw. He said Matches-Nannios is boring.”
I never tired of hearing about those two. But unlike Tommy, I preferred to keep my stories under wraps and he didn’t ask.
One day, Tommy came up with a brilliant idea. “Let’s make a TV dinner.”
For those unfamiliar with the culinary delights, they were the original frozen meals. They came in divided, aluminum trays and were covered with foil. Choices included some kind of meat — turkey, chicken, or meatloaf. Usually, they provided mashed potatoes and one other vegetable. Portions were minuscule and the main ingredient tended to be salt. Anyone over the age of ten thought tv dinners were on par with school cafeteria offerings and wouldn’t touch them.
Tommy and I didn’t know that. We actually liked TV dinners. Similar to most kids, we weren’t too discriminating about food.
Most mothers of that time washed the aluminum trays and saved them for possible, future uses. Tommy's mom had a stack of them in a kitchen cabinet, just waiting for two inventive kids. He grabbed one and we took it to the back yard. There, we made something fabulous, or so we thought.
Little rocks from a backyard flowerbed became pieces of turkey or maybe chicken. They set neatly in the main compartment of the tray. Muddy water was the gravy. Grass pounded and mashed by a brick became vegetable greens and filled one of the smaller compartments. For the other compartment, we plucked flower petals and tiny green berries. I explained, “That’s the dessert.” To finish, Tommy returned to the kitchen and tore a piece of foil from the roll, which we put on top of the tray and carefully crimped the sides. We were very proud of this creation. But what to do with it?
“Let’s take it to Mr. Shoop,” Tommy said.
Mr. Shoop was a friendly, older gentleman who lived several houses up the street. He might have been in his 50’s, but his hair was white and to us, that meant he was at least as old as our grandparents.
Tommy and I cheerfully carried the gift to the Shoop house and rang the bell. The door opened and Mr. Shoop appeared. He gasped with pleasure to see us.
“We brought a present for you,” Tommy said. “It’s a TV dinner.” And I added, “We made it all by ourselves.”
Mr. Shoop was delighted. He grinned and announced, “This is wonderful! I’ll have it for supper tonight!” He took the tray from our hands, thanked us again, and closed the door.
I had some doubts. “Do you think he’ll really eat it?”
“ ‘Course he will.” Tommy had no doubts whatsoever.
Over time, I don’t know how many dinners we made for Mr. Shoop, but it was a good number and each one was different. Whenever we saw him, Mr. Shoop claimed to have eaten them all and declared just how delicious they were. We felt very pleased.
Kindergarten year, Tommy and I were in the same class. But the year after, he went to first grade at the local Catholic school. I went to the nearby public elementary. Our paths, and therefore friends, changed. No longer did we make dinners for Mr. Shoop and I had no idea what Matches-Nannios or Baz-en-dooz-a-laz were up to. Once in a while, Tommy and I would see each other from across the street and wave, but that was it. Several years later, my family moved away and I lost track of Tommy completely.
Nowadays, I recall that little boy who gifted me with sweet memories of inedible TV dinners, Matches-Nannios, and Baz-en-dooz-a-laz. I do hope he managed to hold onto the snappy imagination of his childhood and that he found ways to incorporate it into his adult world.