I still complain about Dad from time to time (though he’s been dead now these many years), whereas he was always complaining about his mother. His own father—unflappable medico from the old country—he never said a word against. But his mother—he had it in for her. He would tell me, “David, she’d even boil the ribeyes. Can you believe that?” I guess I believed it. She was a serial boiler, apparently. Steak, chicken, didn’t matter. I admit she seemed quirky at the holiday get-togethers, perched eagle-like on the edge of the davenport all evening. Her grey, Odessan eyes (rather like Dad’s, actually), alive with impish intelligence, drilled you, before drifting off somewhere beyond the clouds. Surely wacky cogitations swept through that cranial vault of hers. The thinking behind the fresh meat boiling remains cryptic. Perhaps an exaggerated sense of hygiene, or an adherence to eccentric dietary laws. I’m sure she knew nothing of the culinary arts. Grandpa, general practitioner, hardly cared. He wasn’t your epicurean type but rather a man of the intellect, lean, abstract.
The insipid cooking at home prompted Dad to eat out whenever he had the coin, providing sustenance for other childhood reminiscences he’d recount again and again. Dad was a repeater. The same stories came around continually, broken-record style. You grew sick of them. He’d say, “Back then, David, for two bits, you could get a hamburger and a malted milk and go to the movie show.” This was in 1930s Los Angeles. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dad joined the Navy. It was a well-known fact the food was good in the Navy. All that maternal boiling had marked him. And there’s something about a ship, the way you can sail away on a ship. And when you return you still carry it with you somewhere inside, the idea of the sea, the grandeur, the experience. The war, too, of course, you always bring back with you.
But that he never talked about.