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Veterans’ Tales by Vassar

The other morning one of our local radio personalities was pitching a fancy restaurant in the Richmond area, and he proudly announced that their most popular entre was chipped beef on toast. A ten dollar platter these days, and whudda thunk it? People paying ten dollars for the most plebeian dish in America, the breakfast anchor for five wars at least for every grunt who ever sat in a mess hall, since Pearl Harbor.

All those memories came rushing forward. I tried to remember how many of those meals I even had to pay for and certainly never more than a dollar.

Chipped beef on toast was always a part of my life.  yet I never really gave it much thought.

It all came back to me.

My mother wasn’t the best cook, bless her soul, and my dad muttered little digs about it all the years I lived at home. He carried a small squeeze bottle of ketchup in his coat pocket for emergencies; brussels sprouts, collard greens, broccoli, they almost always got a dollop. Even eggs; scrambled or sunny side up. “Anything to cut the taste.”

We didn’t have breakfast with dad during the week. He was already gone when we got up. But on weekends we got a fine breakfast of eggs and chipped beef on toast, for the one thing my mother was a master of making was sausage gravy. She would toast up four slices of white bread in the oven…then bring over two slices at a time, cradled in her apron, and then brings the skillet over and ladle out that gravy. Why she did it that way I never understood.

She always kept a jar of Armour’s Beef in the cupboard, For 18 years I saw that there but never made the connection.

Every once in awhile, while traveling, dad would spot it on the menu in a small town down US 25, in North Carolina and order a plateful, plus a side of grits.

Then sometime in the 60s, dad took my younger bothers and I to a VFW function at their hall when I was home from college. They had a mess line and were serving up chipped beef on toast. I hadn’t had any for about five years, and since he’d moved up in management in the coal mines, I assume dad’s regular taste for it had diminished as well[…]

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