My brother Ted and I recently had a conversation about our dad. Ted and a gathering of his neighbors are constructing a Dia De Los Muertos altar honoring their dearly departed relatives who are no longer of this world. A photograph of the chosen loved one, along with their favorite food is placed on the altar for a week or so in early November. My brother, who is the actual builder of the altar, has decided to honor our mom and dad. He called me wondering what our dad's favorite food was. There was no hesitation when it came to Mom's favorite, we both agreed that the obvious choice for her would be doughnuts. Not just any doughnut you see, but the still famous Winchell's Donut's. She was a Winchell's Donuts afficionado...a "french twist" girl, Mom made Winchell's one of her daily stops.
"What do you think Dad's favorite food was?"
"Ice cream... root beer floats", I said. My dad was the root beer float king. He loved his Dad's Root Beer and vanilla ice cream. Chatting about Dad with my brother made me smile remembering the image of my boys, then 3 and 5 gathering around their Grandpa Ed as he constructed a proper root beer float.
Although Dad loved ice cream, Ted and I both agreed that a root beer float may become unrecognizable even for the dearly departed after 5 days on the altar. Instead I said, "How about a roast?"
Dad was a meat and potatoes man, growing up with a British mother and a father who was a born and bred Easterner from a large, well to do New Jersey family. And despite living in the high country of Idaho for the first 15 years of his life, (besides being smack dab in the depression) it was likely that there was some variety of Sunday roast, be it venison or elk. But when my dad's father died, he was sent off to live with the "Aunts and Uncles" in a big, old, beautiful house in Pasadena, Ca. The Aunts and Uncles, as our family refers to them, were a loving mix of silver miners, actors, adventurers and even a WW1 war hero. They were seven brothers and sisters who, all but one (my grandfather) had never married. This was a period of time (1934) when families actually sat down to dinner every Sunday afternoon. The Condit's carried out the tradition of dressing for dinner and a highball with the family in the living room. Then when the dinner bell was rung, (one of my treasured memories) they would all gather in the formal dining room around the beautifully set mahogany table.
There was always a roast on Sunday. The meat tied and placed in the pan, roasted slowly in the old 1930 era porcelain stove, with no real temperature gauge, just a "moderate, slow, or hot" oven (much like the Aga stove still used in England). The potatoes would be mashed with butter and cream, the pearl onions creamed, perhaps some string beans, a lovely puffed yorkshire pudding, and always ice cream or sherbet for dessert. I can imagine Aunt Molly in that big old kitchen, cigarette hanging off the corner of her mouth (as I am told) preparing those Sunday meals along with her brothers and sisters and their only nephew, my dad, all of them having a grand old time.
It makes me happy to imagine my dad as a young man sitting at that lovingly seasoned old table, surrounded by laughter and lively conversation, sharing a meal.. a Sunday Roast with the family.
I have those same memories as a child at that big old house, but by the time I came along there was just one of the uncles left. My family would still go over on Sundays, and each of us would have a part in creating the memories of that Sunday meal, that to those of us that are still here, keep very close to our hearts.
I imagine that's why my favorite meal, like my dad's, is a roast. Beautifully browned, surrounded by tender potatoes, carrots, fennel and onions, it sits before us on any given Sunday in all its glory, comforting and delicious. Filling our bellies and our lives with memories of family and reminding us that the simpler things in life come from the kitchen.
So when my brother finishes the Dia De Los Muertos altar for the many well loved relatives of Flora Morgan Trail friends and neighbors, I know that there will be a Winchell's Donut, and a nice cut of roast and mash under my mom and dad's photo. Cheers!