Food, Family, and Memory

MenanmomEvery Friday after school, my mom and I delivered groceries to my grandmother in her little apartment. (More about her here). We arrived at her front door, arms heavy with Stop n' Shop bags, and would ring the bell with a free elbow.

Invariably, I would complain about how long it was taking her. (I swear, it took her 5 minutes to walk the 10 feet from her recliner to the front door). And invariably, we would hear her voice from within, “Aspette! Aspette!” (Wait! Wait!).

With my arms completely numb by this point, she would finally let us in and exclaim: “Oooohh, I’m so glad you came! I just made a nice fri—taaa—taa. You’ll have some.” She said it every time as if she didn’t expect us.

Though we ate frittata often at home, I associate it most with Spring and with Nan; Fridays during Lent we would abstain from meat, so she always made a simple vegetable frittata, which was waiting for us when we arrived.

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elaine_plimpton.jpgGay Talese, one of the gods in my personal pantheon of iconic writers, once said that restaurants are a great escape for him.

They are for me, and for many New Yorkers.

The right restaurant, not too fussy or trendy, with a big bar for chatting, eating, drowning the thoughts of the day and sparking the thoughts of the night, is one of the reasons why I love this city and have since I moved here 15 years ago.

Elaine's was that kind of place. Is that kind of place, I guess, although I can't imagine being there without the possibility of a sighting of the so-called "Queen of the Night."

I'm not anywhere near interesting or famous, the kind of person who would be a welcome regular at her "store," as she called it, but in the time I spent there I witnessed what I realized was the last act of a play I didn't want to end. I wanted to write a role for me, to be even just a bit player in the creation Elaine had made.

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shippingnews.jpgMy dad lived part-time in Sag Harbor and made the drive from the city every weekend in every type of weather. I would visit him and my stepmother every summer, and we’d stay put for the weekend, usually poolside. My dad and I would swim back and forth and read books and nap. He would do his Sunday puzzle and I would nudge him for clues; I would read books he gave me and he would nudge me about which part I was up to. Because to me, my dad was part Phillip Roth and part John Updike, I read Phillip Roth and John Updike. Because we both loved to punctuate the headier reading with murder mysteries, he would toss me his copies of Lee Child or Lawrence Block, and I would gobble them up like candy. I still have the water swollen copy of Annie Proulx’s Shipping News that he accidentally tossed into the water in order to save me from a hovering bee, and I remember how he had said he envied my getting to read it for the first time.

But what would any return home to the family be without the requisite favorite foods? Besides the inevitable Saturday night Maine lobster dinner, the most memorable part of the summer food wise, in addition to the musk melons and the corn and potatoes and other fresh fare at the roadside markets, were the little blue and white checkered bags of chocolate chip cookies that one could find only at Kathleen’s Bakeshop.

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cows.jpg Last fall, a neighbor of mine called to say he had a small Guernsey cow, which wasn’t producing enough milk to keep her spot in his herd. Since she was already bred, he hated to send her to slaughter, so he said he’d give her to us. 

She could hang out with our cows and if she had a heifer (female) calf in the spring we could then sell the calf for a few hundred dollars, which would more than pay for the hay Rufus, the cow, would eat over the winter. Plus, since Rufus didn’t produce a lot of milk, the calf would drink it all and we wouldn’t have to milk her, so we agreed.     

Spring came and so did the calf; only it wasn’t a heifer, it was a bull.  Now what?

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girlmermaid.jpgI haven't been watching many reality shows lately because of the crying. There is simply too much of it. Last season on Project Runway, Christopher cried because he was sure that he was the only person in the world who would design a dress inspired by a rock (something I am sure he is wrong about). I have no idea how much crying there is on The Hills, since I was never a fan, but it did catch my attention in People magazine that Heidi Montag, star of the show, cried after she had ten plastic surgery procedures in one day. Heidi, I know from a quick Google search, is 23, although since her plastic surgery she looks 33. Which is actually something to cry about.

I have been interested in and done research on this subject spun slightly different: What happens if your mother (not your favorite reality star) has plastic surgery? This is the subject of my new novel for teenagers, The Girl with the Mermaid Hair.

If, as a teenager, you spend hours in front of a mirror deciding, say, whether one nostril is larger than the other or worrying whether your breasts point in different directions (typical teenage obsessing), do you outgrow this madness or make more radical choices if your mother comes home with larger lips, a smaller ass, a new chin, a different nose, bigger breasts? How do you feel if your mom suddenly doesn't have any expression in her face? Or if you look into your mother's eyes and no one is home?

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