I had dinner with my 88-year-old grandfather tonight. Let me preface. Albert, aka Albie, is 88 soon to be 89. His parents were from Sicily and moved to Boston to start in the new world. His father was a barber making $.25 a haircut and $.10 a shave. He had 4, well 3 brothers and 3 sisters. His Brother Dominic died when Albie Was 2. Shot while playing the piano. Rumor has it he was fooling around with the wrong guy’s girlfriend. He joined the service as a cook for the coast guard during World War II and soon after married my grandmother Clara, aka Bella. They lived in Revere where they had my aunt, and then my father. When my father was 4 they moved to Framingham into the home he still lives in today.
Albie was a chef at the M.I.T. Faculty club in Cambridge for many Years. PBS asked him to do a cooking show for television so he did a few trials and they loved him. He was asked to come on full-time, but he had just bought his new home and the offer did not pay enough for him to support his young family. So they gave the job to Julia Child instead. Wild huh? We’ve made an attempt to acquire the footage from those shows, but there was a fire and the archives are gone. All we have left is the story to tell, and we say, damn that Julia.
My grandmother was a hoot, I’ll explain more on her later, but she died 12 years ago just last month. I miss her terribly! My grandfather began dating another woman Millie, about a year after Bella’s death. She was something else that Mildred, but she made him happy. Unfortunately she passed away herself about 4 years ago and he’s been trying to make the moves on Millie’s cousin, but she isn’t biting. He asks “what are you saving it for, the worms”? He is a very frisky old man, but at least he’s still got it.
Albie loves to gamble! He takes the bus down to Foxwoods every Tuesday to rack up those wampum points. You should see the stack of invites he gets for comps. Free dinners, free nights in the hotel (Sun-Thurs only of course). Just a couple of weeks ago they cancelled his bus. He was not happy to say the least. He told me tonight he went down there this morning to see if it was still running. He sat around for about 15 minutes and then took a ride to the bus station down the street where he found out there is a bus that will take him there any day he wants. But “you must be here before 7:30 am”, says the lady in the ticket booth to a man who gets up at 4 am to boil water for his evening pasta. Well he is tickled about that and for all we know that bus has probably been running all along. He is going tomorrow.
So, he calls me at the store today. “Kimmy”? He is deaf as a post. “Can you stop by tonight? I have a nice little gift I want to give you. I got it at foxwoods and I know you like to cook” I tell him sure, and he proceeds to ask me if I want dinner too. You bet I do, a home cooked meal from Albie is like heaven on a plate, and at 88 too!!! So we make plans for 5:30 – 6pm. He reiterates the 5:30 because he doesn’t like to eat too late.
I know that when I get there I should be expecting some sort of salad spinner or some modern gadget that he has no use for, but it was a nice little spice rack. Complete with dried herbs and spices that have probably been in there since before the recession. But the thought was so nice, and I am definitely going to keep it. I’ll probably even use those stale spices at some point.
He likes to tell stories, and since he can’t really hear me I just nod and smile, and let him talk. Over baked shrimp with buttery bread crumbs, we told me about how the first time he had butter he was 11 years old. He was a small boy and since tuberculosis was so common his teacher suggested he go to a health camp to get some meat on his bones. They sent him for 2 months at $11 a month. $22 was a lot back then, but his parents did what they could to make it happen. He had butter, and mayonaise, and shredded wheat, and oatmeal. He didn’t like the oatmeal much, so he would hide in the woods on oatmeal day and eat the wild blueberries. Well he fattened up, and it is probobly where his love for cooking came from.
We talked about the depression and how they almost lost there house a couple times, but they made it through. In those days when the kids were old enough they went out and worked, most not finishing school, and they contributed most of their earnings to the household. They bought there own clothes with the rest and what ever they had left over was for fun. Not to say that there were not kids back then whose parents were wealthy and provided for them what ever they needed, but it was different.
We live in such a different time now, where we forget to stop and be grateful.