Peas in a pod.
My dad’s birthday is this week.
I’ve been without him now for over fifteen years. How is that even possible?
Shortly after he died, I started culinary school and I can't help but think that he would have loved hearing about my adventures there. No doubt he would've loved tasting my kitchen experiments.
As a culinary student, I traveled to Italy and France and my Dad would have been beyond thrilled for me. I always wanted to have a passport and be a world traveler and he shared that dream with me. Who knew that food would be my ticket to the life I always wanted for myself?
One of the things that Dad and I always did together was eat. Back when I still lived in Cleveland, he would drive to my apartment on Sundays and we'd go to a favorite restaurant or a new place we wanted to try, have lunch, and then go to the movies. When I moved away, he would visit and we'd still incorporate movies and eats into our time together. That was our thing.
I remember when I got the call that my dad had a stroke. I was in Ann Arbor. His eighty-eight year old mother called and told me they’d taken him away in an ambulance. It was May, a Saturday around noon.
G and I packed a bag and jumped into the car to drive to Cleveland.
Dad was in the ER, then the ICU. I don’t think he was alert for almost two weeks.
We all spent spring and summer and early fall trying to find a way to, what? Cope. Heal. Survive.
Once he was awake, the doctors had to assess what damage the stroke had done. His right side was affected. His speech was affected.
He went to rehab after the hospital stay.
When we took him out to dinner in October, he could speak, walk without assistance, and he used a knife and fork to cup up his food and eat with joy and abandon like he used to.
That was a banner day.
Then more hospital visits, rehab again, problems with meds, at least one more ambulance run, assisted living.
To find some sanity and put myself in places that were not related to doctors’ offices or E/R’s, I took cooking classes. When G and I started dating, my food journey started to kick in. I started to appreciate food and find pleasure in dining and exploring new ingredients, techniques, tastes.
Instead of hearing words like aphasia, arteriogram, creatinine, I heard the words sauté, roast, and brulée. I spent my days dealing with rude nurses, chasing MIA doctors. At night I spent hours with risotto, scallops, and beef Wellington.
During a brief moment of health, I brought Dad home with me for an afternoon, just him and me. I made a pot of minestrone; simply beans, vegetables, ditalini, freshly grated parmesan on top.
When I proudly served it to dad, he beamed. It was like I gave him a bar of gold. He ate at least two bowls.
I will always remember that soup and that moment of sharing it with him. We didn’t have many moments that were just ours anymore. That were fun. Before the stroke, my dad and I had never yelled at each other. But in the quagmire of the stroke, the medical care, the constant doctor appointments, we’d gone at each other like never before. We were in this hole together and neither one of us knew how to get out. So we went at each other sometimes because we were so angry about being in the hole in the first place.
Looking back, I see that my dad loved food his whole life. He enjoyed trying new things. He would get excited about a meal or about going out. Dad was mild-mannered, almost meek. And he was made fun of for his profound love of food and eating.
“Freddie sure loves his food.”
(Being ridiculed and teased was our family’s “love language.” Ugh.)
But I have a lot of food knowledge because of my dad.
Because of his drive across country in a 1960s Corsair as a young man, he learned first hand about America’s regional food traditions.
Shrimp cocktail and spicy cocktail sauce. Sausage and gravy over biscuits. Sourdough bread and Dungeness crab. Boston cream pie.
He was also quick to tell me that he knew all about bad food too. Mostly from his army days when he had to eat **** on a shingle while based at Fort Leavenworth.
Dad taught me the basics about Chinese take out. His must haves: Moo Goo Gai Pan, chicken Subgum, wonton soup, egg rolls, and hot mustard.
He tutored me in the fine art of knowing when a place was serious about milkshakes. If they left you the container in which the shake was made? Five stars.
He counseled, if I’m going to drink root beer, drink the best and make sure it’s in a frosted glass.
When I finally started to shed my picky eater status and explore the world, if I found something good, I had to share it with dad.
In his honor, I will make popcorn and cue up Top Gun: Maverick when it streams this month. It’s just the kind of movie he and I would’ve gone to the theater to see together.
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Thanks again for reading. I care about you. Please don’t forget to eat your greens.