Food, Family, and Memory

melomakarona.jpgAs my daughters will attest, I am not a cook. 

Indeed, the only thing I have ever cooked is brown rice and boiled eggs (you notice I said boiled and not scrambled or poached or anything remotely requiring any cooking skills) so it was a testament to my attempts to be fearless, that the first time I cooked anything more complicated than brown rice or a boiled egg, was on national television on Martha Stewart’s show...

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cemetary.jpgMy father always said the worst thing about getting old was watching your friends die.  Second worst was diminished distance off the tee.  Now that I’m over sixty, I can attest he was right on both counts.  Nonetheless, even death and the rituals that accompany it, somehow never fail to offer up a little comic relief.  On the other hand, there’s nothing funny about losing yardage. 

Of course, the memorial services for friends in show business are always filled with laughter because on those occasions you have talented, funny people telling stories about other talented, funny people.   However, non-pro deaths offer their own moments of black comedy.  As cases in point, I offer the following two examples.

After my mother died, my father, my sister, her ten-year-old son and I went en masse to buy her tombstone at a place called Swink Monument.  I have no recollection exactly why we picked them, but price may have been involved. Their office was in a mobile home surrounded by a concrete slab, on which various markers were displayed.  (In case you haven’t guessed, this is in North Carolina).  My father, following through on his philosophy to the end, picked neither the grandest stone nor the plainest.  Then, we went inside to fill out the paperwork, except for my nephew who remained out doors, skateboarding through the monuments.

Dotsie Swink, the heavy-set woman who was assisting us, took down the basic information, then asked a question I’ve never heard before or since:  You want slick on top?

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boubon-st-sign-lr.jpgI was lunching with a friend when some woman leaned over and said, “Do you realize you’ve been talking about food for an hour straight?” “I can’t help it,” I replied. “I’m from New Orleans. We’re all like this.”

Honestly, where I come from, it’s perfectly normal to plot lunch while eating breakfast, to discuss past and future meals while having lunch, to treat every supper as if it were the last, to call friends and ask: What’d ya eat today?

Back in ’05, my dad was hospitalized – a routine procedure for a stomach hernia. Unfortunately, this resulted in post-operative ileus: his intestines refused to return to work after the anesthesia wore off. And while I too have been tempted to not return to work after a little R&R…come on, you’re intestines, you have to go back to work. Otherwise, nothing that goes in can come out.

One week passed. Two weeks passed. Slackers. I flew home to New Orleans. 

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mimichowmeinAfter graduating from Alabama Polytechnic Institute (a.k.a. Auburn) and marrying my grandmother, my grandfather joined the Air Force. Starting their married lives in Ashiya, Japan, on the southern island of Kyushu, Mimi and Granddaddy were much akin to many newlyweds.

They were setting up house, planning a family, learning to cook, so on and so forth, yet, being in post World War II Japan influenced these Southern newlyweds more than they would ever realize. One of those influences was in the kitchen, where Mimi began her culinary prowess in the land of bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, and soy sauce. This was the 1950’s and upon return to the South, those Japanese and other Asian sways may still be found in her cooking today.

“Where we were in Japan, Southern Japan, we were on the same latitude lines as home, so the seasons, produce, and flora were much of the same as home… azaleas, camellias, etc. all grew and bloomed there.” Mimi said. Besides that, many Southerners eat many things over rice i.e. Creole, red beans, gumbo, and stews, so that part of the cuisine was a tête-à-tête between the two cultures for sure.

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schneckenWhether you like FaceBook or not, it has its' merits. People and relatives are easier to find.

Last week a woman left me a message and a friend request. I hesitated.  I had no idea from her picture who this person was and why she was ‘friending’ me. Curious, I opened up her profile. This dark haired, beautiful woman was my second cousin.

After the surprise of finding a new family member, I explored her profile to find out about her, as I hadn’t seen her in 50 years. She still lived in Florida, the last place that I had visited with her and her family but this time she was all grown up.

Brenda is her name, just like mine. Odd that we share the same name and she is older by barely a month. We messaged back and forth that evening and I liked her. Then she announced that she was coming to Maine 3 days later to see the foliage with her husband. I invited them to dinner and to stay at my house. She declined but agreed to visit us at our store. The common thread we shared was my aunt Alice, my mother’s aunt and her grandmother.

I felt compelled to tell her some obscure piece of information so she had no doubt that I was truly the correct Brenda. I don’t know why.  I said if she stayed overnight I would make pineapple schnecken, for breakfast just like aunt Alice always made for me. She knew I was ‘the’ Brenda that she was looking for. I knew exactly how to make the schnecken because I had saved the recipe in a special place for 50 years in my heart.

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