I grew up in a very small town in Schuylkill County during the 60’s and 70’s. Although it only had a population of about 300, the town did have several bars, a couplet churches, and a gas station that sold bread, Tastykakes, and milk.
A neighboring town had a small A&P grocery store, several tiny mom-and-pop variety stores, and a lot more bars and churches than my tiny hamlet enjoyed. Almost every Friday evening found my Mom and me strolling the aisles, list in hand for this week’s “store order” at the A&P.
As much as I looked forward to that weekly ritual with my Mom, there was nothing as exciting to this coalcracker kid as our monthly Saturday morning trip to “the city” — in this case the city was the county seat, Pottsville (PA). There, the streets were lined with real department stores, several five and dimes, leather goods shops, paint and wallpaper specialists, music shops, shoe and clothing stores, a furrier, a couple bridal salons, outstanding bakeries, and the apples of my eye — diners.
In the days of my childhood, most meals were made at home. “Dining out” was a special event. Even eating at a lunch counter like H.L. Greene’s or Woolworth’s was a real treat. The art deco designs and gleaming stainless steel of eateries like the Sugar Bowl, Scharadin’s, and the Garfield diners intrigued me. Sliding into a booth across smooth, cool vinyl transported me to my own little world.
“Mom”, I asked eagerly as I flipped through the tabs of songs on the jukebox record selector in the booth, “Can I play something?” As I tapped my feet (that did not yet reach the floor in my earliest memories) against the booth bench to the beat, Nancy Sinatra sang about some serious footwear, Marvin Gaye was reeling over gossip, or Don MacLean was singing about who knows what — but it was really catchy.
Waitresses, order pad in hand and dressed in matching uniforms complete with aprons and little caps, scurried up and down aisles between the booths. In the days before mega portions and unlimited refills, glasses of Coke were often served in a green-tinted or clear contoured glass complete with chipped ice or little round cubes.
I had my favorite go-tos at diners; hot turkey or beef sandwiches with fries smothered in gravy, cheese burger and fries, or one of my favorite dishes yet today, the classic club sandwich — those triple-decker delights on simple toasted square no-frills white bread. But my Mom, well, my Mom was a BLT kinda woman. When I think back through the years and sift through my memories, I realize my mother almost always ordered a BLT.
When our food arrived, Mom would lift the top layer of her sandwich, expose the tomato, reach across the table top for the salt and pepper shakers and lightly sprinkle both on the surface of the tomato slices. She would then replace the “lid” of the sandwich, pick up a triangular-shaped piece and take a substantial bite. “Mmmm”, she would murmur, huge smile on her lips. “Best BLT ever.” she would say…every time.
BLTs were not difficult to make, nor were the ingredients expensive. Mom could have made them at home anytime, yet she almost never did. It used to confuse me why that was, given her affection for the simple sandwich. The answer came to me decades later, long after my beloved mother had passed away.
Sitting down to lunch one day with my late husband, James, and the BLT he had requested for lunch, he took a bite, turned to me and said, “Boy this is a good BLT. I’ve had so many in my life I’ve lost count, and I’ve had them all over the country, but yours are always the best.” His comment took me by surprise, and I shrugged and said, “Thanks, hon, but it’s just a BLT…” “No”, he replied. “It has something to do with you.”
At that moment, I had the answer as to why Mom never made her favorite sandwich at home; it had to do with me — me and the ritual she had with her only child and the monthly mother/daughter day we shared. There was nothing inherently special about those sandwiches from our favorite diners — what made them special was the closeness we enjoyed during those moments. She knew those moments and days and years would be fleeting — the little girl sitting across from her would soon grow into young adulthood and spread her wings.
And she was right; it was not long before new friends, new activities, and a driver’s license for me meant the days of childhood trips to the city and BLTs and club sandwiches at diners on Saturday mornings were a thing of the past. But I never forgot those days and the closeness I felt to my beloved Mom during our outings. I should have told her more how precious those memories were to me. She may have thought I didn’t remember or did not think about them, but I did. I have thought of those days often across the years.
I turn to them when I seek the comfort only a mother can give during the bumps and traumas life deals us, never more so than now as I long for her loving embrace and consoling words while I struggle to cope with the unexpected loss of my husband in late January of 2021. When my grief threatens to overwhelm me, I close my eyes and travel back to those Saturdays spent with Mom and thoughts of milkshakes, gleaming chrome accents, Formica-topped tables, and BLTs bring me some much needed, even if short-lived, moments of peace. Thanks for the memories, Mom…thanks for the memories.
I served this dip for the first time at a holiday party James and I hosted our first year in New Hampshire. Anything with bacon always seems to be a hit with party guests, and I had long ago grown weary of bread bowls filled with dips that seemed to be served everywhere. But what really drove me to make it was the connection to BLTs and my Mom along with the overwhelming case of homesickness I was experiencing having recently left my life-long home in The Coal Region.
The dip was a huge hit and I found myself being asked to make it throughout the years for pot-lucks and holiday picnics and gatherings. My preferred way to enjoy it is accompanied by lightly toasted thin slices of French baguette, but always offer wavy chips as an alternative for dipping.
BLT DipCourse: AppetizersCuisine: GeneralDifficulty: Easy
1 – 8 ounce package of cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup chopped iceberg or romaine lettuce
8 slices bacon cooked crisp, then crumbled
4 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
4 scallions chopped, both white and green parts
1 cup finely shredded cheddar cheese
- Combine cream cheese, mayonnaise, and Parmesan cheese in a small bowl. Spread onto serving plate. Top with lettuce, cooked bacon, plum tomatoes, green onions, and cheddar cheese. Chill until serving time. Serve with, wavy potato chips, crispy bread sticks or toasted Italian bread slices (crostini).