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Betty Crocker Behind the Iron Curtain

What would you have done? If you were in my situation, what would you have done? Though painfully embarrassing, the time has come to lift this story out of my trunk of memories.

In the spring of 1980, God’s undercover ministry behind the Iron Curtain was gaining momentum, and our small team planned a women’s retreat. This covert event would be historic, the first ever of its kind.

Our lives of subterfuge mandated sifting every single minuscule detail through Communist realities. For instance, a home offered the only safe environment for this overnight event - secrecy was essential in keeping our subversive activities under the radar. Arrivals would be intricately orchestrated so that each person entered separately, thus avoiding attracting attention of any nosy neighbors.

Once inside the door, none of us would leave. Our meals would be prepared and eaten together within the confines of this one home. Duties would be equally divided among us.

Though I suffered miserably from morning sickness, I ducked my head into the wind of adversity, and assumed responsibility for my share in the workload. Sally, Gwen, and I signed up in advance to prepare breakfast.

Cold War food shortages were severe. Food rationing, empty stores, vacant shelves, and long lines made meal planning daunting. To guarantee a breakfast to remember, I volunteered to sacrifice one of my treasured boxes of Betty Crocker muffin mixes.

Unheard of in Polish stores, these Betty Crocker muffin mixes were hoarded in my basement for a birthday, a holiday, or in this case, a gathering of women. Certainly my friends would feel loved with my offering.

On the morning of duty, the three of us, Sally, Gwen and Debby, arose earlier than our sleeping friends, and tiptoed around bodies to make our way to the kitchen. Quietly and cheerfully, we busied ourselves making our breakfast feast. I could hardly wait to surprise the group with my Betty Crocker muffins. This contribution would be the highlight of the retreat food!After all, how long had it been since they enjoyed the taste of a warm BC muffin?

While Sally and Gwen busied themselves with ham and eggs, I lit the gas oven. After tying on my apron, I rubbed my hands together and reread the already familiar instructions on the back of the Betty Crocker box. Next, I pulled out the bowl, spoon, and oil for the muffins. Ready, set, go.


Then it happened…

 I opened the box and GASPED!

You guessed it.

There. were. WORMS. crawling. around. inside. the. box!

Horrified, embarrassed, disappointed, and frustrated, I considered my options. Under normal circumstances, shrug and toss. (Why, of course.) But these were not normal circumstances. This was our first historic women’s retreat. We were missionary women living covert lives behind the Iron Curtain, and Betty Crocker muffins were mandatory for this breakfast.

Desperately, I turned to my colleagues for reassurance and recalibration. Each gazed down into the cardboard crisis. Disgusting. Utterly disgusting.

I stared at Sally and Gwen. They stared back. No wiggle room (pun unintended). The looks on their faces spoke a unanimous verdict: take the box and toss the contents ASAP.

What? Are you kidding me? No way! Standing there in that Communist kitchen, we parted ways. Without their approval, I mixed, made and baked the Betty Crocker muffins. Oh, how delicious they smelled as the aroma wafted from the warm oven.

With a defiant flare, I single-handedly served the delicacies. Those gathered around the breakfast table obliviously slathered butter, jam and honey on warm Betty Crocker muffins. Each thanked me profusely for unselfishly, sacrificially sharing the culinary treasures, which had been stored in my basement “for such a time as this.”

And, what happened in the kitchen stayed in the kitchen - no one else ever knew of our war with worms. Sally and Gwen simply demurely declined when the Betty Crocker muffin basket made its way around to them. The three of us exchanged glances as I took one for myself, and choked it down - in the spirit of celebration of our first historic women’s retreat.

Deprivation distorts decisions.

Today, 37 years later, I am ashamed of myself. Yet given the circumstances of scarcity back then, Betty Crocker muffins with worms seemed better than no Betty Crocker muffins at all. And to think, I didn't even put the contents through a sifter.  

What would you have done if you were in my shoes?