Have you ever been walking around, minding your own business, when the sight of something unexpected slams you back into a long-forgotten episode from your youth? I think Dr. Ima Shrink would call it Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

On our way down to Nashville, the sisters and I stopped a gas station in Missouri for gas (duh) and car snacks. I was walking up and down the aisles of the little station, trying to pick out the best snack for the next leg of our journey.

Suddenly, there it was, right at eye level, a whole shelf of Spam.


For those of you unaware of what Spam is, lucky you. It’s a disgusting, canned meat-like product made by the Hormel company*. In my youth, Hormel had a slaughter-house/ packing plant in Austin, Minnesota. Maybe they still do.

When I was in the sixth grade, our teacher, Sister Pete, decided visiting Hormel would be a wonderfully educational experience. Either that, or she was a sadist, as nuns are wont to be.

The students, including myself, were just happy to get out of classes for the day. We eagerly took our permission slips home to our parents to get them signed, and packed a lunch for the big day.

It was a 90 minute bus ride to Austin from Rochester, and it was full of the happy chatter and good-natured sparring of prisoners unexpectedly granted their freedom.

I don’t remember if we went through a canning area or if we saw any packaging lines that, no doubt, would have sparked my engineering interests.

I only remember the processing rooms. Whole pigs hanging by hooks, while workers expertly gutted them, letting the entrails drop onto a slowly moving conveyor belt. I remember the workers wearing rubber boots, as they stood in blood up to their ankles. And I remember the heat, and the overwhelming stench.

Have I mentioned that nuns are often quite sadistic?

After the torment, I mean tour, we went to a local park to eat our bag lunches. Most of the kids had some kind of meat sandwich that they really couldn’t eat without gagging. They went hungry, poor souls. Poor, green-at-the gill souls.

I was a “hot-lunch” kid, which meant my parents had me buy the lunch the school served. We didn’t really have any lunch meat or other fixings in the house, so I had to pack a sugar sandwich (on white bread) for my lunch that day.

I was embarrassed to have to pull my sugar sandwich out of a full-size grocery bag, but I was grateful that I could actually eat.

Let me tell you, the ride back to Rochester was much quieter than the ride to Austin. And my trust in teachers was forever shaken.

Stay tuned…

*All opinions about Spam are strictly my own. Judging from the many flavors of Spam now available, I’m sure tons of people absolutely love it.