Saturday, June 18, 2022

For Father's Day

My father posed for this photo--happily, willingly, being silly and ravenous.

Papa Callan loved sugar. He loved ice cream. He loved cookies and cakes and Dunkin Donuts. In his 97th year, his last year of life, I moved in with him and took control of his meals. I put him on a sugar-free diet. He was diabetic, after all. But still, I look back and I must admit I have a soup├žon of regret when it comes to the sugar-free regimen. In fact, I wonder if my dietary restrictions were the thing that did him in. After all, before I took away his sweets, he had lived for 97 years on the Sugar Land Express.

After I moved in with Papa Callan I asked him how he felt about oatmeal for breakfast. He did not feel very good about oatmeal. He seemed to think it was boring. I tried to tell him that with some fruit it might not be so boring. I asked him when was the last time he tried oatmeal and he told me that his mother served it to the entire family--seven Irish-American children. I imagined my grandmother, Madge, waking up and stirring a cast iron pot of oatmeal for the family in her coal-burning stove. Poor woman!

Then one day, he convinced his dear mama to get him this newfangled cereal thing (remember, this was in the 1920's) and he had her buy him Kellogg's Cornflakes. What a revelation. So much sugar! And so a life-long love of sugar and processed foods was born.

Creative friends--take a look at what you eat and ask yourself where does the love of this come from--maybe it's not sugar, but maybe it's pizza or lemon ice or spicy pepper. Maybe it's potatoes with butter. Or fish with parsley. Perhaps it's chocolate or strawberries, lobster or cous cous. Focus in on the thing you yearn for when you are feeling lost and sad, bereft and lonely. Now, get even closer to this food. Ask yourself when did your relationship began. When did eating, drinking and taking this thing into your body offer you solace? Have a conversation about that moment. 

Then, keep going until you find the seed of your desire. Perhaps it was when you were sitting on the back porch while your parents were fighting. You began crying and your mother thrust a box of Ritz Crackers in your lap and left you there, alone on the porch-- with the entire box. And out of this box, you discovered sugar and salt and fat in a seemingly limitless quantity. So many crunchy crackers that the ache in your belly usurped the confusion of your parents fighting--drowning out the sound of their ragged words and accusations, until you were transported into another time and place, where you danced with salty sailors.  You recited an original poem in honor of the sugar plum fairy. You sang the praises of the strawberry king. In that ecstatic state, you made the  primal connection between food and memory, desire and regret.

It was downright Proustian.

This memory is yours for keeps. Yours alone. Your secret. Forever. Just take a look in your memory box. It's there waiting for you. It's always been there. You just have to dust it off and take a look. Now, go and create something amazing.



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