Panorama of San Bernardino

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Taste of Nostalgia

Nostalgia is like butter on bread for me. Or should I say margarine. Growing up, Dad would only use margarine. I never had butter until I met my husband Adrian and I was flabbergasted by the creamy salty taste as opposed to the hydrogenated oils I had grown up on. Unlike margarine, however, most of the foods from my childhood still tempt me.

For example, I still love me a frozen chicken pot pie. Not the Marie Callender's one. I like the cheap two for a dollar one. With careful precision, I wrap the foil around the rim and put it in the oven and wait for it to heat and bubble up. Yanking it out of the oven at the exactly 45 minute mark, I cover it with pepper just like my dad used to. Biting in, I get so excited to eat it, I often burn my tongue.

My dad's three addictions in life were food, alcohol and gambling. He passed them all down to me. This essay is only about the food addictions (the other addictions will wait for another day and another blog).

Just like my dad, I love me a piece of fried chicken from the box. And donuts. On donut day, Dad would go down to the Yum Yum donut shop and get the day old ones for 75 percent off. It rounded out to less than ten cents a donut and my jelly filled glazed was worth every cent.

To this day, I cannot resist a glass filled case of the fried jelly filled wonder. It is not that it tastes delicious. I would say today's donuts are only passable. But, it is the feeling I get when I eat it. I can almost hear my dad's voice and see me and my sisters scrambling over to the box to grab our favorites. And homemade buttered and heavily salted popcorn is still my go to in times of stress. I do not put it in a Stater Brothers brown paper bag like my dad did, but the feeling is still the same. And hard candy that I hated as a kid, is now tasty to me. Channeling Dad through candy and popcorn is hard to beat.

Sadly, many of my dad's favorite food choices do not exist any longer. Pioneer Chicken's orange crispiness is long defunct as is Pup n Taco. Carl's Jr. is still around, but the hamburgers definitely taste different. And Pizza Hut, which was a restaurant with red and white checkered tablecloths when I was growing up, not a delivery service, is pathetic.

Nostalgia is why I still occasionally eat McDonalds. It doesn't taste very good, but the sight of the orange wrapping on the cheeseburger triggers the memory of my dad bringing us happy meals to our elementary school.

I guess what I am trying to say, lest I ramble, is that nostalgia does have a taste. It is why Italians pass down recipes and why my Argentine mother in law still drinks mate every day.

It is as if the very experience of drinking or eating something from when we were young brings back the youthfulness, at least for a moment.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The little Wookie that could

I hear him cough. He spits up. Just spittle. One more cough. It is 4 am.

Then he stops. I look at him and say, "Chewbaca, is there something stuck in your throat?" As if he could answer. Chewie gives a little wave of his caramel colored tail, tongue sticking out the side of his muzzle as if to say, "I'm fine mom." Adrian rolls over in bed and mumbles, "turn off the light."

In the dimness of the room, I squint for the black and white bundle in the middle of the bed. Frodo's eyes are already open from hearing us up and he reluctantly rolls over and lets me pick him up and place him on the cold tile floor. I open and close the bedroom door and turn on the upstairs light as Frodo and Chewie, our two shih tzus, pad down the stairs a bit earlier than usual.

"If he coughs let me know immediately. It could be heart failure." Is that what Doctor Chris, our vet, had said? Or was it, "if he coughs, I need to know so we can check him for heart failure"? The difference matters. Because if that one cough could be the end, I do not want to know. I can't know. It would be too much to take.

I sound dramatic. But you need to know the history. Not the history of the Wookie, that's easy. Chewie came on a plane and we picked him up and the poor puppy was covered in piss. He had flown in with cargo and was terrified. A mere 16 weeks old. He was the runt of the litter they said. Adrian's dental school graduation present was snuggled by me all the way home. I was already a shih tzu fanatic having been quickly converted by Frodo, who was a year old, from a crazy cat lady to dog obsessed. I didn't care that Chewie smelled. He licked my face and I was hooked by his light brown eyes and his tongue that didn't fit in his mouth. We got him home and I washed him and soothed him and he has stayed by my side ever since. More of a baby duck than a dog. I love him to distraction and pamper and spoil him. Chewie is co-dependant and a small ten pound version of a famous Wookie, hence his name. Chewie is the opposite of Frodo in many ways who is beefy and all dog. Frodo is both independent and stubborn, but for some reason he lets Chewie boss him around. Maybe it is because Chewie is not fixed due to his heart murmur.

Chewie is needy and anxious. Like me. You look in his eyes and it is all soul. And a constant quest for food (also like me). Chewie once knocked a loaf of bread off the table and we came home to him gnawing on it and the loaf of bread was more than half gone.

My history will have to be brief although it is complicated. The important stuff for this essay is that I am in my mid forties and barren. Yes we tried to get pregnant for many years and on many fronts. It all ended in heartache. Too much heartache to tell you here. Other than to say that I have still not gotten over the constant rock in my chest from it all.  But when I look at Chewie, it eases a bit. He needs me so desperately. And eagerly.  Chewie follows me around and while it is annoying to have a little dog staring at you for the last 8 or 9 years while you use the restroom, it is also beautiful to have that same little dog by your side while you watch the latest episode of Project Runway, or talk to your mom on the phone, or cry when you get bad news, or write a story.

I still owe Adrian a graduation present.