Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Ham and Eggs

Got Any Spare Ribs?

When my late mother told me stories about growing up poor, her main beef, was the lack thereof. Big family, not much food.

Before the chain stores came to town with their fancy roll your own shopping carts, my grandfather owned a local market. What's wrong with that picture? His insistence that his home be kept kosher. His store, however, was not. So, while he generously provided credit for customers during the Depression, he would not bring home the goods to feed his family. Kosher food cost more, was harder to find, and the seven kids were pretty fed up with oatmeal and kasha.

As a result, my mother soured on large families, the difficulty and expense of maintaining two to four sets of dishes, and Hebrew school for her only child. I didn't mind. Being an only child was fine, one set of unbreakable Melmac was enough, and I figured the tap dancing lessons might be more fun than learning a language that would set me apart from my friends.

Skip ahead a few decades. Mom died, dad remarried, and kosher was not part of anyone's reality. Until. Until age and illness required assisted living. My father developed dementia; both needed walkers and someone to do the cooking. They decided on a place that catered primarily to Jewish people. It is a kosher facility.

Try to explain to a dad with not much memory and reasoning skill just why it is that he can't have ice cream for dessert after the pot roast. Sorry, but shrimp scampi is out of the question. Cheesecake after the chicken? Nuh, uh. He doesn't get it. He's disappointed. Then he forgets and things are OK for awhile, until the next time he's in the mood for butter on the brisket.

Last week he fell. He doesn't remember how, but with a bump the size of a naval orange on his head, blackened eyes, and two fingers with stitches, my 92 year old father had to enter a rehab facility to get strong enough for a return to assisted living. Every one in the family dreaded this day. Dad is fussy, fastidious, and treasures his privacy. Sharing a room with a stranger, being in a different building with no familiar attendants, unable to tell time, oh--this was a bad development.

Two days after his placement, I drove down to see him. I was bringing chocolate. Chocolate cheers him. I dreaded what I would find.

What I found was an elderly man in the activity room, kicking a huge ball around the circle of wheelchairs. He was happy to see me, although my name escaped him. Instead of complaining or begging me to take him with me, he smiled, said the people were nice, and he was feeling pretty good. I looked him in his black and blue eyes and asked him what he had for supper the night before. He managed a sly grin and answered, "Pork. It was delicious."


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