Tongue and eggs. Even 40 years later I remember my father’s favorite delicatessen order.
“Was this how he liked them?” My daughter, who knows the story, asks.
A wistful nostalgia for what might’ve been fills my chest as I answer, “Not quite, a little less raw.”
There is a belief in Judaism that talking about the dead holds the promise of immortality in the stories told. So, as we stood at the stove, scrambling eggs, I mention that my father liked his ‘runny’ – aka barely cooked –done just enough to avoid Salmonella poisoning. Vile, in my then 11 and now 51-year-old eyes. “He ordered tongue and eggs whenever we went out to a delicatessen.”
“Just what it sounds like; it’s the tongue of the cow. Sliced.”
“Ewww…” my daughter squeals, as her egg scrambling slows. “You didn’t tell me that he was gross.”
“No, he was not. But I must concede that sometimes his taste in food was,” I say through watery eyes as I hug a grandchild I know he would have loved.
Our culture is oddly uncomfortable with tears. And I too agree that repression is more comfortable than expression. But every so often, when sentimentality spills from the sky, my eyes brim with all of the sad words of tongue or pen. I’m compelled to reminisce. I swallow hard, embrace the pain, and relay mundane details about a man none of my nuclear family will ever know – one I remember only in snippets as he died when I was 12.
While on a family vacation, the four of us were at a formal dinner when a memory stormed my brain like a flash flood. “Spoons” I said lining up all of those on the table. I put them in a row, as my father would— usually after a cocktail – always J&B on the rocks – and conferred with Chardonnay while my husband and children stare at me trying to figure out if I’m daft or drunk. After several failures, I’m more in awe of my father’s ability to use three spoons to flip one into a water glass – preferably a full one—and most enjoyable when my proper mother was looking.
Why do I want to keep him alive in my family 40 years later? The metaphor of the tongue – of handing down the memories, it infuses the tradition. The oral tradition. I hope it gives my children a sense of history, that it helps them establish roots in an ephemeral time, in a rootless town.
“Where’d you get these?” My tween asks, reaching for square gold earrings that were cufflinks in their previous life.
“My dad,” I whisper.
She places them in her recently-pierced ears. I stare at the beautiful fierceness in front of me.
“My dad would’ve loved you so,” I sputter as ‘might’ve been over flows from my eyes. I cup her face, and rub her earlobes, uttering “Abraham” three times as if I could bring him back to life, the life I long to share with half of the duo that gave me mine. My first born looks confused as she reflexively hugs me. I snort – I’ve never, ever ‘cried pretty’ – and chose to believe that immortality is possible through the stories told – and tears shed.