The Legacy of our Parents

I’ve been AWOL for a bit now, and for that I apologize. My mother passed away last weekend, and I’ve been coming to terms with the whole thing.

I’ve always found it curious how bloggers share this sort of news to the public at large. After all, moments such as these are private matters. I’ve often tried to maintain some semblance of the divide between my public and private personas. Talking about Mom’s passing seems to blur that line a fair bit, which makes it somewhat difficult for me to approach. After all, this is a food blog, albeit a non-traditional one. Death of a loved one has no place here, right?

Yet I cannot help but think that without my Mom, and the examples she set in her life, I wouldn’t be writing, let alone writing about food.

For better or for worse, Mom was her own person, and personified to me the idea of “the individual”. While my Dad was a lonely pragmatist (they divorced thirty five years ago), my Mom was the dreamer who believed in herself. The way they each approached food typified this wonderfully.

Both parents were hard workers, giving both time and, in my father’s case, health to their jobs. My father was a sales representative for a industrial paint company. His job was to schmooze various clients to get them to buy his products. An introvert in an extroverts position, he took pride in finding the best restaurants that his expense account would allow. Often, “best” was equated to “interesting”, which was how he was able to find the best Indian food, the spiciest Vietnamese cuisines, or the most delicate smokehouse barbecue in the unlikeliest of places. Not many Mexican restaurants in Pittsburgh in the 1970′s were serving mole (aside from guacamole, of course), but I’ll be damned if my father would point out the places that could and did.

He was also very comfortable by himself, and it was through his example that I learned that eating alone is a pleasure unto itself. That he amused himself by adding enough of a tip to create important dates in history was a quirk that I also indulge in from time to time. If you’re a waitress, and you’ve seen a bill that came to 10.66, 18.63, or 19.41, you had likely waited upon my father (or myself, if you’ve had this tab in the past six years since his death).

My mother came at food from a much different direction. She could cook up a storm, and my first memories of food come from dishes she made. I vividly recall the strawberry shortbread she made for me when I was four, and I have fond memories of her beef stroganov. To this day, if Thanksgiving stuffing doesn’t taste like my mother’s, then something is a bit off about the day.

She turned her back on cooking, for the most part, choosing instead to work as a computer programmer by day, and then as a teacher at night. This led to her ensuring that her children would not lose out on a family life, so when she had custody of us on weekends, we ended up at huge family gatherings.

Food, for her, wasn’t about skill in the kitchen, or even providing a daily meal. Great food was a celebration. I cannot count the number of family cookouts we had, nor the number of holiday feasts we used to share together. My mother’s side of the family would use any excuse to get together to play cards, drink, and eat. For my Mom, it wasn’t as much about the quality of the food, as it was the quality of the company you kept when you ate.

Keen eyes will note the turn of phrase “used to share together”. Long before she passed away, these amount of these events dwindled. I chalk most of this up to the kids, both her own and her nieces and nephews, growing into adults and moving away. No longer bound by the responsibilities of parenthood, she sought out her own life. She quit her jobs, and started her own consulting company which moved her out to Chicago. She then moved with a friend to southern Missouri.

What did she do there? She opened up two businesses – Her own restaurant and her own bar. From the anecdotal evidence, she created a friendly atmosphere both places, so much so that her customers wished to hold a wake in her honor. I find it interesting that in the end, she sought out to create an environment which one could interpret as replicating the many feasts and get-togethers we had in years past. It wasn’t as much about what you ate, as it was who you shared the experience.

My parents taught me a lot about food, whether they knew it or not. I miss them both very much, and will miss them for a long time to come.