It’s the little things that bring me back.
The horseradish sauce with the Hebrew lettering on the side of the bottle. I am in second grade, back in the Bronx, eating a Passover seder at my friend Jody’s house. The horseradish has been mixed with beets, and I am mesmerized by the color. Something so beautiful must taste so good, I think, but I am disappointed.
Her grandfather hides the matzo in a cloth napkin, and her littlest brother finds it. He gets a dollar and I am envious. We should all celebrate seder.
. . .
Then I spot the Gravy Master in the back of a cabinet. No expiration date, which makes sense because I don’t think it contains real food. My grandmother Mary, who came to the United States from Ireland all by herself when she was 16, used Gravy Master all the time on her famous roasts. You could smell them as soon as you got out of the elevator at her Yonkers apartment building: roasted chicken, roasted turkey, roasted pork chops – and roasted beef for special occasions.
My grandmother taught me: Take the pan drippings and pour off the fat. Add flour and Gravy Master and make a nice, dark roux. Add water, or chicken broth if you’re feeling rich. Beat the lumps.
My grandmother didn’t have to go through Ellis Island because she had a sponsor. This was special; my grandmother was lucky. Then her sponsor took her to Vermont to scrub floors and didn’t get my grandmother a winter coat. More than 60 years later when I married someone from Vermont, my grandmother shivered and said she would never to step into that state again.
Before that I never knew that my grandmother was a maid.
I miss my grandma Mary all the time. I wonder what she would think of me, getting myself into all this trouble with my bad husband. With children involved, too.
I somehow think she would understand. I’ve never heard the entire story about my grandfather, a handsome and dashing Irishman who seemed to be chronically unemployed and who died when I was a baby. I suspect something dark, but no living person will confirm it.
His secrets died with my grandmother.
I wish she was here to talk with me.