The Old Man was an eater for sure. He would work hard and eat everything that was on his plate. You could tell when my Father was enjoying his food. This was clear from the look upon his face.
His upper lip would sweat; not to mention his look of intensity, as if his meal could somehow wipe away the day behind him. As I say this, I say this with the memory of being a young boy. The Old Man was always working. He was out of the house by sunrise and home after sunset. I understood that he had to work to keep a roof over our heads and yes, I admired my Father as my very first hero.
I say this in full disclosure and openly; yet admittedly, there was a moderate form of intimidation and respectful fear.
The Old Man worked a hard job and sometimes, in all fairness; The Old Man took his work home with him. He was often tired and impatient and by the time he came home, I was already in my pajamas and ready for bed. I would try to wait up for him. I wanted to see him eat. I wanted to see the look on his face and admire him.
I have memories of looking down from the side of our staircase which led upstairs to the bedrooms. And there he was, my Father.
Our house was a small cape with three bedrooms and one bathroom. The house was not big by any means but it was ours. Bought and paid for by The Old Man’s wages.
I remember watching my Father eating at the dinner table. Mom would reheat the meals for him and sit with my Father at the table. They were mainly quiet and my Father was mainly interested in the food that was in front of him.
The Old Man loved food. He ate everything down to the bone. In fact, one of my Father’s rituals that dated back to his youth was to clean the meat from a bone until there was nothing left.
He had told me this was a game they played at the dinner table when The Old Man was a kid. I suppose I was too young to understand much about the game.
I was too young to understand what it meant to live during The Great Depression. There was no such thing as waste. There was also no guarantee that the next meal to come would be as good as the meal before it.
So, eating everything on the bone was more than a game at the diner table; this was a way to eat everything and conserve food.
The Old Man never liked waste. He never liked to throw away food and sometimes, he would notice the left-overs in the fridge. This is when he made his “kitchen sink” omelets.
Of course, we called the omelets the “kitchen sink” because The Old Man put everything in the omelets except for “the kitchen sink.”
I cannot say that I shared the same taste buds as The Old Man nor can I say that I enjoyed food quite the same way. In fact, I was a terrible eater when I was young.
I was picky and never ate a full meal which is odd for me to say because these days I’m an eater of all sorts.
I stay away from certain fishes and no, I’ve never been much for liver. I’m sure there is a list of foods that I don’t like but in fairness to all meals, I’m willing to try everything twice (or sometimes, three times) just in case I did something wrong during my first go-around.
The Old Man passed away when I was young. . .
So, my mealtime memories are limited to a few. However, I do have memories of The Old Man at his favorite restaurants in which I can remember him – happy as ever and with a look of satisfaction on his face.
I can remember The Old Man at one of his favorite rib places. This was a huge treat for him.
He was a fan of a place called Bobby Rubino’s.
God, he loved that place. He was a big fan of their prime rib. And there was a burger place on Merrick Avenue which The Old Man absolutely loved but me – not so much.
The Place was known for being home to the ostrich burger, which is not to say that all burger patties were made from ostrich meat – but the name alone was enough of a turn-off for me that I would object to this place as often as possible.
Either way, I was the youngest in the house which means that my objection was usually overruled.
There was a night in the sixteenth year of my life when I was with The Old Man, alone in the car, and driving home after a day at work. I was not in the greatest of moods. I was tired to say the least. I was filthy after working on a large residential boiler and safe to say that although the day was hard and the work was tough; I did my part and The Old Man was both fair and on my side with this.
There was so much going on at the time. I was in trouble in more ways than one. I was self-medicating with the worst kinds of drugs and slipping away in the worst way possible.
I was wishing for a shower and looking forward to going home. I wanted to scrub the soot from my skin, eat something and then hit the bed because the hour was late and my body was exhausted.
There was distance between my Father and me and although we were at odds with each other, there was a need for us to reconnect . We wanted to reconcile and somehow get through this together. But as the saying goes, “Never the twin shall meet.”
I suppose that pride and ego does not do us justice in times like this. Instead, all this does is inflate the tensions between two people.
The Old Man decided to offer an olive branch to which I was unwilling to grab.
“Let’s get something to eat,” he said
“I want to go home,” I told him.
“Let’s go to Fudrucker’s” said The Old man.
“I don’t like Fudrucker’s” I answered.
So there we are, heading in through the front door of Fudrucker’s, home of the ostrich burger and all I wanted was to go home. My hair was matted with sweat. I had black soot on my face and the dirt was stained in the indentation of my fingerprints. Safe to say that I was displeased. Safe to say that I was probably pouting about this. And safer to say that The Old Man didn’t care. He was looking to prove a point.
He must have known that, in part, my challenge was vanity. I was dirty and the restaurant was a fast food place in our hometown. I didn’t want anyone to see me this way. The Old Man mentioned that he knew I was unhappy. He mentioned that he understood that we were dirty.
“Never be ashamed,” he said.
He told me, “Never be ashamed that you got your hands dirty at work.”
“It means you know how to make a living.”
I suppose that I was too young to fully understand this and yes, my vanity was challenged. However, there was something humbling and redeeming about this meal. There was something wonderful about this as well because there was a moment of realization that took place.
The Old Man wasn’t trying to embarrass or humiliate me. No, this was his way of showing off. This was him showing the world that on this day, together, a father and son worked hand and hand to rebuild and repair a residential heating system.
This was a moment between Father and son, dressed in their work clothes, dirty as ever, and eating a well-deserved meal together.
This was not about control. No, this was a time when my Father honored me for my efforts. Though I admit that I could sense this; I was still too young to understand the total weight of this moment. But I know it now.
We ate quietly together, as Father and son. Both of us tired from a long hard day; eyes upon our food, looking intensely, and eating every bite as if it were our last possible meal. We sat this way in the middle of a bright place where everyone could see.
No shame. Just a Father and son. Together.
Thanks for the lesson Pop.
I’m not ashamed to work. I’m not ashamed to get dirty.
I learned exactly what you taught me; to treat the janitor the same as I would the CEO.
By the way, Fudrucker’s isn’t around anymore and I have long since moved from the old neighborhood. But either way, some of the moments that I miss the most are the times when we sat together as Father and son, eating a meal after a long day’s work.
I wonder, if you could have a meal with anyone (like me with my Father) and be anywhere you could choose, where would it be?
As for me, I would be at a table in Bobby Rubino’s where The Old Man and I could battle it out over a huge prime rib, just to see who could eat every bite, clean the bone and be finished first.
See what I mean?
It’s true. Food is love.