Keep it in the family

Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to family. About how we stay connected to where we come from. You might hear a story once and forget it the next day, but you tell that same story over and over, over the same meals through the years and the stories and the meals become legend. The way the stories are told over a table, the phrases of words and tone until the next generation is finishing the sentences of the first. Stories associated with pictures pressed into albums or hung on a wall. It’s the same things again and again.

But once in awhile, new details surface as attics are cleaned out and artifacts are passed on. Two years ago a rediscovered LP showed that my great-grandmother, Mae, sang in the local Jewish choir. I always felt connected to her. I wasn’t sure why. Because I visited her in an old age home that bore my name. Because I played piano there. Because she always had Almond Roca. The fact that she sang and I sing comforts me. I like the old standards which, for her, were probably the popular songs on the radio. I wonder if she liked Cole Porter like I do. A few years ago my mother gave me Mae’s engagement ring, which I’ve worn every day since.

Her son, my grandfather, I barely knew. He moved the family from Chicago to Alaska (where my mother was born) to Canoga Park where he and Louise built their own house with their own hands where my grandmother still lives. Myron taught shop and drew mice on my hands and couldn’t have looked more like his son.

His son. David Ronne. It’s been a year to the day since he got sick. A year since the stitches of a loose-knit family began to pull tighter than they ever had before. Last Thanksgiving I had grand foodie plans to do a 200-mile meal in Portland. It was going to be my first holiday I had willingly not gone home. But my mom called, and it was serious, and of all the Thanksgivings to miss, this wasn’t the one.

I don’t remember if he carved the turkey last year. I don’t think he did. I don’t remember if we had our annual heated discussion about just how much (or how little) sugar to put in the whipped cream. I always forced the addition of one more tablespoon than he wanted. Thanksgiving was the one time I could eat with abandon, and I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to have an extra serving of anything. But I do remember that everything tasted the same as it always had, with that perfect mix of savory on savory and rich on rich.

Since the day after the funeral, new artifacts have surfaced. And with them, new stories. I now have my great-grandfather’s bowling medals and his mason’s ring.

And last week I inherited knives. Knives I didn’t know existed. Knives that belonged to my great (great?) grandfather, who, as it happened, was a butcher in Germany. I didn’t know we had a butcher in the family. These knives are beautiful, rugged. Gunmetal carbon steel with soft wood handles. These knives aren’t for show, they’re for use. They look like real knives should look. Henckels, nearly all of them, except for one exotic cleaver with Chinese characters wearing from the metal.
I love these knives. Love where they came from, their authenticity and bad-assedness. I love that they came from family, that they reveal a story I only want to know more about. I’m glad to know there are new stories waiting in the cupboards and attics of our family’s homes. And I’m willing to take my time, let them be revealed to me one at a time. Dole them out over a lifetime, when I’m ready, when it’s interesting.

I’m going to bring them in to get sharpened soon. I’m going to do my research on how to take care of them. And best, I’m going to use them. A lot. I have a knife drawer I’m already proud of, and it’s about to get a lot more crowded.

Pictures to come.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I totally know what you mean.

I just inherited my great-grandmother's bread knife. Obviously handmade. Beautiful and heavy. I hung it on our kitchen wall next to grandpa's pancake skillet.

Lovely tribute.