Apt 2F was home. Running up the all metal staircase with steps resembling raised metal buttons was usually the route we took to our apartment. The clanging sound of our footsteps as our shoes hit the metal treads plays in my mind like an old 45 RPM record. The wait for the small 4 x 5 elevator was just too long and after all we were impatient teens and only lived on the second floor. The stairwell was also the place we hid the community pack of Marlboros; this was long before we knew about the Surgeon General’s warnings, and at 15 we knew it all anyway!
When I do reach back into my memory bank I can immediately conjure up my home, my family and the dinner hour that you could set your watch to. Entering my family’s apartment, I was greeted by the delicious aroma of smothered lamb chops, mashed potatoes and mixed green salad. My father’s mayonnaise dressing was special. Every lettuce leaf was slathered with his paprika infused dressing that we all thought was simply scrumptious. The brown background wallpaper with those large yellow flowers radiated its energies into the dining room underscoring the love, security and consistency that surrounded the family dinner table each and every day.
My father was a great cook and my mother’s recent reentry to the workforce enabled them to share many of the traditional woman’s roles in favor of a team approach to household management. My father’s 6 pm to 2 am NYC policeman’s schedule enabled him to share many of the family obligations before my mother came home from work. Who knew they had a progressive 2015 marriage in 1965!
I often look back on those dinners incredulously because of the strides we’ve made in terms of nutrition and knowledge. Today, a salad slathered with a mayonnaise based dressing would never cross my lips nor would meat of any kind. I’ve been a vegetarian for over 20 years yet in those early years, I salivated at the very thought of that luscious meal. Don’t tell anyone but I used to eat raw chop meat not having the faintest clue what raw chop meat actually was! Back then, the correlation of fats and sugars to diseases such as diabetes, coronary artery disease, hypertension, kidney disease and the like was not widely known. It never dawned on any of us that there was such a direct link between food and disease. In my heart of hearts I know that my father’s premature death at age 47 was exacerbated by diet and of course genetics played a contributory role.
In the back of my mind, I’ve always feared the genetics part of my familial equation not knowing which side of the gene pool I inherited. I knew that on my paternal side, longevity was not promised, if anything it was a hoped for attainment. I also knew that in life I could only control what I could control and my DNA was not one of the controllables. I reasoned that what I could control was the food I put in my mouth. I’d love to say my road to vegetarianism was because of some deep well thought out conviction. Not so much! My road to vegetarianism was really the result of happenstance. One day, more than two decades ago, I tuned into a television program about the meat packing industry. As I saw the herded cattle being led up that one way ramp to their ultimate demise, I became physically sick by the thought of what was to come. The last nail in my meat eating coffin was the next segment regarding the genesis of veal. From that point on meat has been the enemy and it’s been an enemy I do not miss.
Meat aside, the memories of my family’s enchanting dinner hour including those smothered lamb chops, creamy mash potatoes and mayonnaise slathered mixed green salad will always warm my heart and soul. As I envision my father putting his last touches on the meal, my mother stepping off the elevator as she returns home from work, my brothers and I arguing over who is supposed to set the table while my sister plays underfoot are memories that I will always cherish and never forget.