Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Food and Memory Lane

My Kentucky-bred step-mother had a thing for White Castle. When we visited family in Southern Indiana, on the way home, she'd stop at the last White Castle outpost (Kokomo) and get 50 sliders. They went in a cooler, and then the freezer when we got home. They were future Saturday night treats.

I haven't eaten meat in 20 years, and I never really liked White Castle. But the memory of eating the tiny burgers with my brother is priceless. I don't have many. We were raised separately, and there was a significant age difference. He was still a child when I became an adult and left. By the time he was an adult, I was so settled into my adult life there was no space for him. And then he died. The hole that left in my life is beyond description. It was the loss of not just my brother and our relationship, but the chance to grow that relationship. We would never have more. We would never have a chance to know each other as adults.

Laugh if you will - but I'm happy!
Last week, in the freezer section of the store, I found a veggie burger - slider style, complete with bun. And it was White Castle all over again.  Pop in the microwave, add pickles. Ta-da! Instant childhood - minus the mini-van.

The food unleashed a flood of memories. The weird fried egg/noodle thing with French dressing my grandmother makes. My aunt Erika's corn casserole. My aunt Lola's guacamole. My sister's strawberry pie. My mother's carrot soup.  My grandfather's mustardy vegetables.  The snow ice cream Mrs. Balou used to make. They are more than food. They have a specific place/time in my memory. It's a non-linear flood of sensations. It's a texture, a scent, a flavor, a color and so much more. It's a specific time and place in my memories with complex emotional links.

These are all the good memories. The ones I like to think about.  Ethnic and Southern - so food forms the foundation of family memories. It is not just sustenance - it's love made tangible. You bring food for sad, for happy, for comfort. You eat the food, and you know that you are loved, cared for.  And sometimes, when you eat - you remember.

Take-away - The bitter-sweet pleasure of a memory is something to be savored.