By Paul Blase
One of the weird things about getting older is the futile attempt to escape mortality. You start to lose people by the time you become a young adult, perhaps that’s grandparents or great-grandparents. Then, into your 20s, you may lose a few friends. By your 30s, you’ve likely had a child, perhaps a few. Finally, into your 40s and 50s, people start to lose their parents. And all of a sudden, they replace them in this cycle. It’s life.
I’m currently at the point where I’m in my thirties. I have lost all but one grandparent. I’ve lost quite a few friends in my 20s. I have a child here in my thirties, and my Dad keeps finding a way to cheat death and kick cancer’s ass.
Obviously, Father Time is undefeated. Life will catch up with me eventually. That’s just a cruel fact of life. I fear the day I lose my Dad more than anything in this world. Having a bad dream of my son having an accident or having to fend for himself makes my stomach turn sick.
But the thing that we’re blessed with in our existence is the ability to keep memories and traditions alive. The art of storytelling has been a staple of humanity since prehistoric times. Everything from cave drawings, pottery, paintings, and even written/oral stories… it all keeps our memories alive. One thing that, although popular, is often overlooked when we talk about traditions, storytelling, and memories – is food.
It feels like we all have some passed-down recipes from grandma. But I feel that what gets lost is WHY these recipes are our favorites or hold special places in our lives. The human mind truly is one of the most remarkable things in this world. Scents can bring us to a happy place; songs can bring back the feeling of when we first heard them. Seeing certain things brings us back in time, and tasting food brings us right back to our childhood.
Growing up, there were certain dishes that my parents made that always stuck with me. My Mom will be the first to admit she doesn’t nearly have the pallet I do. Hell, how she was married to my full-blooded Italian stepfather for 20 years and didn’t eat pasta is beyond me. Either way, her chicken cutlets are always a must-have. However, in my Dad’s kitchen? We ate a truly eclectic mix of food. German cuisine such as bratwurst with egg noodles and sauerkraut as an homage to our German heritage, the quick and easy Sloppy Joes (or as my Dad called them, “untidy Josephs”), bowtie pasta with minced clams, his home-seasoned pork tenderloin, scrambled eggs and bacon (where he would feed us crispy pieces and say “BIIIIIIIIG BACON”). There are just too many to list. Even for takeout, our Sunday night supreme pizza order held a special spot in my childhood while we watched the NY Rangers games. Colloquially, he would call it “Mangers with the Rangers” (in a French pronunciation… mon-jay, ron-jay).
But the sad thing about all of this is the fact that we don’t have a family cookbook. Even the recipes that I know, I cannot ever seemingly get it to taste like Dad’s. I say that after I just had a few Untidy Josephs for dinner. Even chain-store pizza tastes just a bit different and never quite the way it does when Dad serves it.
All of this makes me realize that there’s a key ingredient that’s missing. That ingredient is the memories that were being made. It’s the stories that come from it, just like Deadman’s Meatloaf. It’s the ingredient you can’t add to the food but the ingredient that the food adds to you.
Something so seemingly innocent, like a cookbook, means the world to me because even if I can’t make it just like Dad, I want to be able to create these memories, these stories. All of it for my son and any future children I may have. Perhaps I can add a few of my own recipes along the way.
But in the end, I want the family cookbook to tell my future generations more than how to make a delicious meal. I want it to teach them how to be a family, how to create memories, and how to be proud of who they are, where they came from, and where they can continue to go moving forward.