My grandfather recently passed away. This post is dedicated to him because he’s one of my major influences, culinary and otherwise.
I’m a carnivore. I enjoy alcoholic beverages. I love tomatoes. I’m certain these facts were established from time well spent with my grandfather.
For as long as I remember, my grandfather would answer the telephone with “Michael speaking.” It was a definitive statement. The ball was in your court as to how you would respond to this decisive, gentle, funny man (FYI, Michael was his last name). In my observation, my grandfather approached food and drink the same way he approached life: with a sense of adventure. BUT…he knew what he liked, he knew what he didn’t like, and that was that.
Seems that so many of my memories of my grandfather involved food: a meal at the kitchen or dining room table, smelling something weird unearthed from the fridge that he had discovered during business trips “down South” (my grandfather divided time between his native Western New York and the Gulf Coast throughout his very successful career as a management consultant, primarily in aviation). His business travels took him away from the family homestead regularly, and when I would think about my grandfather, I’d automatically think of three things: entrepreneurial success, travel, and food.
The facts: Grandpa loved Tabasco Sauce on his eggs and grits, he loved black licorice, he loved martinis, and he loved his family. He made Luzianne Coffee & Chicory that would (not could) hold a spoon upright in a mug. He was an avid hunter and fisherman who had a passion and skill for gardening produce—in particular tomatoes. His parents owned a delicatessen (of which the only known photograph of the deli was merely a backdrop to the prize deer my grandfather expertly shot in his teens. Grandpa was always a showman of sorts). When I was a baby, my grandparents lived on a farm in a barn that my family converted into a home with their own hands; my grandparents tended to the animals and gardens proudly. My grandfather was a decorated World War II veteran of the Army Air Corps (the Air Force as we know it today). Walking the woods with my grandfather to pick wild blackberries is one of my best childhood memories.
When I’d visit my grandparents, we’d eat. I’d listen to them, and my father, discuss business, politics, religion, and current events over my grandmother’s homemade manicotti (we’re Irish, German, and French, but not Italian). After my grandmother’s passing, Grandpa and Dad would ping pong opinion about the state of our union and the Catholic Church over meatloaf and potatoes. At any meal, at any time, I could have chimed in, but mostly I’d sit quietly and think to myself, “I want to be like Grandpa.” His personality and warmth—charisma, I guess—would knock my socks off.
On only a few occasions (that I know of, at least) did family go to the Gulf Coast with my grandfather to see the inner workings of his home away from home. I never traveled with him so his lessons and influence were imparted upon me during time at the kitchen or dining room table. Since I’ve always been more of an “actions speak louder than words” kind of gal, the tangible information I downloaded from my grandfather about his business experience was always punctuated by what he was eating or drinking. In a sense, Grandpa spoke to me through food.
So I’m a carnivore. I enjoy alcoholic beverages. I love tomatoes. I also co-own a company that I established 2,600 miles away from my hometown. I also love adventure and I embrace what I like (the “What I Don’t Like” list grows shorter as I grow older).
It’s just beginning to sink in that my grandfather has left our world of daily experience, and I’m certain he’s in a better place. (The last several years he bravely battled Alzheimer’s disease, a cruel diagnosis for such a brilliant mind.) I miss him and so many things about him, but what I miss most is Michael speaking.