Grilled Cheese Wisdom

February 18, 2010 at 4:55 pm 2 comments

From Hamlet’s soliloquy about what ’tis nobler to a cry for “Serenity now!” there are many many quotations and inspiring thoughts that we all recognize. Nursery rhymes, parables, fables, and ancient text to teach that it is bad to cry wolf; it is dangerous to swim immediately after eating; it is good to try, try again; and lefty-loosey-righty-tighty.

In addition to this collective knowledge, we each (I believe) have our own repertoire of quotable quotes, personal mantras, words that the original speaker may not even remember but that had great impact. For example.

“Don’t let a grilled cheese sandwich get the best of you.”

I was working as a waitress in a diner. My first job. And, on this particular day, making a forced transition from handing out food to actually making it.

It was a very stressful day. Short staffed with lots of orders and me attempting to do stuff I had never done before. Now, I’m not saying I had never cooked anything, but there is a dramatic difference between slipping an egg into a cute little pan on a kitchen stove and cracking one open on a 6×4-foot piece of flat angry sizzlin’ metal. And there is a dramatic difference between slapping together a grilled cheese at home for yourself and cooking one on above-mentioned monster grill while the person who is going to pay for what you’re concocting is sitting about 3 feet away, watching your every move.

On a big hot diner grill? Cheese really melts good. And the bread tho crisp is greasy. And you try plating and slicing one of those gooey sliding things (using a knife that would stop Crocodile Dundee in his tracks) (in front of an audience) without making a big mess. Each time I tentatively placed the knife edge on the bread, before I’d even begun to cut, things started to shift, slide, ooze.

Customer waiting, other orders piling up. My big chance for advancement. I was flubbing it. I got frustrated. I got nervous. I didn’t know what to do!



She was right there. The waitress and cook in charge, loved by all customers, my boss, about 30 years my senior. It was Mean Mary Jean.  One of the finest mentors I have ever known.

She stepped up, took the knife from my hand, and zip-zap: perfect diagonal. As she performed this miraculous demonstration, she said, with kindness and humor and modest wisdom, “Kiddo, don’t let a grilled cheese sandwich get the best of you!”

It’s not in Bartlett’s. It cannot be searched for on It will never be carved in marble on a monument. But it is profound.

  • Sometimes, the solution to a problem is to just go at it with confidence.
  • The answer you seek might just happen to be very, very simple.
  • When you consider what is actually evil and scary in the world and when you consider people who have real challenges in life, it is pretty damn preposterous to let something as mundane as a grilled cheese sandwich frazzle your self-esteem.
  • I am stronger and smarter than a sandwich.

Although that epiphany came nearly 30 years ago, it has not lost any of its power. These days, on the job, the tough tasks are a bit more complicated, the consequences affect more people, the cost of failure is a bit higher than $2.95, and a quick cut with a sharp knife is rarely the answer, but, when I face the impossible, when that horrid hairy beastie Fear hooks in a paralyzing talon, when I think “I can’t!” . . . well, in those moments, I hear her voice clearly, chuckle and all. And I marvel at the persistence of silliness. And I shake my head at my slip. And I slice that beastie like a grilled cheese sandwich.

Cheers to Mean Mary Jean (who was not so very mean at all).


Please share your favorite unique line of unconventional wisdom in the comments box.

Entry filed under: Life Preservers. Tags: , , , , , .

How to Survive a Blizzard Customer Service Jumps the Shark

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. WritingbyEar  |  February 19, 2010 at 4:48 am

    Wonderful! (I’ve always wanted to know how to be a short-order cook.)

    From my grandpap…a more happy-go-lucky, go-with-the-flow guy I’ll never know.

    “When your shoes wear out you’ll be on your feet again.”

    BTW, I LOVED my first boss and mentor — Henrietta. Blogged about her a long time ago. She was definitely an influential person in my life.


  • 2. patty  |  March 1, 2010 at 8:03 am

    ” it’s not brain surgery” – i can’t say much more without saying to much, but it was good advice



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive email notifications for new posts.

%d bloggers like this: