A “Frank” Story of Survival

Apr 8, 2014

Experts tell us that hot dogs are full of preservatives. I know this for a fact.

When I was ten years old, my mother had a portable dishwasher she seldom used. She preferred hand-washing to dragging the heavy machine across the linoleum and hooking the clumsy nozzle to the hot-water faucet. So the portable stayed next to the refrigerator – and this is where our saga begins.

Portrait of a hot dog
Credit Tamra Wilson

One day Someone pulled a package of hot dogs from the refrigerator. Somehow, Someone didn’t notice that a hot dog escaped its package and rolled under the dishwasher. There it lay in wait without drawing attention to itself, even though we had a dog and two cats at the time.

Experts tell us that hot dogs are made of  “mechanically extracted meat – i.e., anything that doesn’t stick to the bone – pressed together with corn syrup, sodium phosphates, potassium lactate, salt, and something called sodium diacetate, to prevent mold and fungus growth.  Perhaps it was sodium diacetate that kept our hot dog from smelling bad.

My mother eventually found the wiener, but not until it had become a petrified brown cylinder. She thought it was hilarious to own such a specimen. So did my brother and I. We marveled that this food item had survived so perfectly for so long. In fact, Mom showed it off to some close friends who came to visit. “Isn’t that something?” she said.

It was something, all right.

It didn’t occur to Mom that she was telling on herself for not using – or cleaning under – the portable dishwasher for some time.

Eventually, the petrified wiener became a family pass-along joke, primarily between my brother and me. Both of us were enamored with the thought of an ancient food item that wouldn’t go away. It found its way into underwear drawers, under pillows, and into my makeup case. After I married, the wiener kept giving. It turned up as a birthday present from my brother. I sent it back to him. The exchange continued through Christmas and other events, anniversaries or “just because.”

But sadly, the wiener was lost to history. No one is sure who lost the sausage. I think it was my brother; he thinks it was me. Somewhere in the moves, or the mail, Mom’s 1960s-vintage frankfurter met its demise. Had it not made its second disappearance, we could claim a 50-year-old hot dog. That truly would have been “something, all right.”

It was only fitting, then, that when I took an oil painting class a few years ago, one of my still-life subjects was a hot dog – a lasting tribute to the well-traveled family wiener. I sent the portrait of the infamous frank to my brother, with my compliments. He was deeply touched.