Food, Family, and Memory

pasadena greetings.jpglaraine_newman_cameo.jpgTwo times a week I have to find stuff to do for several hours in Old Town Pasadena. This is a part of Pasadena that is, well, the oldest.  If you can imagine any part of California old, this is it. Many of the ‘old money’ resides here and the architecture reflects the Spanish influence tinged with Victorianhanna_toss.jpg and Craftsman flavor. The reason I go is because my daughter Hannah is a competitive cheerleader. Not the kind connected with a school. She’s too young for that. The kind from Bring It On. The kind you see on ESPN. My little Westside dolly is the one they throw up in the air. The one who brings her leg back to touch her head while being hoisted aloft.  Frankly, I’d puke if I ever had the guts to get up there, but she’s tough and fearless.

If you attend one of these competitions, which I’ve done for many seasons now, you hear sped up hip-hop for hours on end. I actually like hip hop to some degree, but after hours of it, I want to kill myself. This past season, her team; Explosion, had a sixties theme, so their music was a mash up of Sam and Dave, Buffalo Springfield, The Beatles, The Monkees, Steppenwolf etc. It was fabulous and they took first place nine times out of the eleven times they competed. Obviously, not because of the music, but because they ‘stuck it’ every time.

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chocolatesquares “Can we have dessert?” my four-year-old grandson asks, a conspiratorial half-smile pulling down the right side of his mouth. He knows full well that this is not dessert time, but also knows that spending special time with Mama Dora means tossing all parental restrictions to the wind. Ice cream? Yes! Cookies? Why not! Chocolate? Of course! As far as I’m concerned, a grandparent’s holy responsibility is to spoil the grandchild. The parents’ holy responsibility is to deal with the aftermath—a sugar-filled, hyper child, who’ll climb up walls and spin like a possessed dreidel. So! We will have chocolate, I silently decide, my own mouth watering.

“Two,” he negotiates. “Two what?” I ask, as if I don’t know. “These tiny square, brown things,” he says, without naming chocolate, as if voicing the magic word might summon his parents, heaven forbid. “Ok,” I reply “two.” So we march to the kitchen, arrange the table with china plates and napkins. It’s important to set a good example even, or especially, when chocolate is at stake. I put two chocolates on each of our plates. Help him up the stool and sit next to him.

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davidandbarbara1950s.jpgI keep connecting with an early childhood memory about summer days at the beach.

To get to the beach we'd drive a long time in our hot car and coming home, I was always sunburned, with gritty sand in my swimsuit.  The travel part wasn't what I liked, but the picnic lunch my mom packed sure was. Fried chicken, potato salad, biscuits with butter and honey, watermelon slices, and egg salad.

My dad rarely came with us so usually my mom had a friend along for company while my sister and I splashed in the water, determined to annoy one another as much as possible.  After awhile we'd get tired.

Then it was time to eat. We'd load up paper plates and settle down on the sand watching the older kids body surf.  We didn't talk much but we'd share the moment enjoying our mom's food.

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kayepicI once went to the most spectacular Hollywood funeral ever. And the love that poured out was well deserved. We knew her by one name, kind of like Cher or Madonna. Kaye. Do you all know whom I’m talking about? You do if you were lucky enough to grow up in Beverly Hills at that time. It’s Kaye Coleman, beloved Nate ‘n Al’s waitress of 38 years and star of our collective childhoods.

Although Kaye had a daughter, Sheri, and a son, Michael, she was the unofficial surrogate mother to some of the biggest mothers in Hollywood. And her “sons” looked after her well. I’d run into Kaye at the priciest restaurants, sometimes on Sunday at Matteo’s, in the booth near Sinatra, dining with her posse of waitress friends, the tab picked up by Lew Wasserman or Bernie Brillstein. Those two moguls would also send her on European vacations and Mediterranean cruises. At times, Kaye lived a fancier life than many of her Beverly Hills customers.

At the deli, she was on a first name basis with everyone, including the big agents and the bigger stars, but there was only one “Mr. Wasserman.” She’d be kibitzing with you, then spot Mr. Wasserman walk in and say, “Gotta go, there’s my twenty dollar tip!” Kaye would hit and run with her insults and barbs. She’d give you a tidbit, not finish the story, then walk away quickly leaving you wondering and wanting more. Later on, she’d circle back, finally giving you the punch line. And then she was off again to pick up the next order of Matzoh Brei.

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Depression-conceptualMy husband Mike passed away suddenly two years ago. A “catastrophic coronary event,” I remember hearing before the doctor launched into the “We did everything we could” speech. I sat motionless in the Naugahyde chair in that dimly lit room they usher people into to tell them such things.

My husband Mike could put the caption on the cartoon we call life. I can still be felled by a wave of sadness when the world calls out for his wit, but it usually passes as the business of life encroaches and forces the sadness aside. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that grief is not a linear process or a series of predictable steps. It comes and it goes, lingers or dusts by. It can overpower or gently remind. Now you see it; now you don’t.

The second year into loss, the cycles of grief had given way to the flat, dark monotony of depression. Since action is my default response, I checked out inspirational websites for those contemplating putting themselves out of their own misery, and I downloaded into my iPhone Kindle any number of self-help books about depression and the powers of positive thinking, and I answered every “Are you suffering from...” and “On a scale of 1-10...” quiz that the books offered.

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