Leaving the National Forest and re-entering the 21st century was a bit of an adjustment. How ironic that we fled from a generator only to find ourselves in a modern hotel room with no less than 14 electrical appliances to its 60 square feet of space! I immediately turned off the heater and fan and also a separate air purifier. I unplugged the refrigerator. Still, every 15 minutes, something made a punctuated whooshing sound. Eventually, I figured out it was an air freshener mechanism above the door releasing a neutralizing odor into our “smoking Queen” like clockwork. I learned how to sleep through it for a few hours.
Since we had traveled so far north in search of room in the inn, we decided to keep going on into Ohio. We crossed the Ohio River at Portsmouth and found our way toward Wayne National Forest. We stopped in at the public library in a light rain to do a bit of research, and there, Steve made a discovery that changed our course. We had promised ourselves a “splurge” portion on this trip. Paying more than $100 for a room at a franchised motel off the Interstate did not count. But now, we were within 2 hours of a bonafide historic hotel in a state that Steve had never visited. We decided to go east to Parkersburg, West Virginia, to spend the night at the Blennerhassett Hotel and then return to Ohio the next day to visit the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park. From there, we decided we’d head back home directly. There comes a time when you know that your adventure has taught you something important and you need to pull back to your interior to focus on that. It’s like a mythical journey: leaving home, learning, and returning changed. But every hero needs some time and a place to figure out what he’s learned. We figured we were close enough to use home base as that place.
Nestled deep in our gear, we found dress shoes, a long skirt for me and a tie for Steve. We were off to enjoy a dash of historic elegance and some truly fine food, not cooked over a campfire. We were not disappointed.
Final phase: the Pre-historic. That’ll be my next post. Thanks for following so far!
My mother quoted something to me over the phone this morning: “At table, we never grow old,” I think it goes. I am savoring this idea, thinking of birthdays and family members, extended in geography and generation. Steve’s sister had a birthday wish in April to dine at a French restaurant here in Wauwatosa. That finally was accomplished last Saturday night, but as her husband’s 50th and my 50th are coming up next week, we decided that we were also celebrating our birthdays…and then we included Steve’s so he wouldn’t feel left out, even though his is 3 months away. We spent over 3 hours at a table in the front window of the restaurant, sampling cheeses, drinking French wine, dining on lamb and pheasant and dissolving chocolate pastries on our eager tongues. We laughed a lot. We talked about philosophy and aging and Mars and mold allergies. I was welcomed into this threesome who have been best friends for 30-47 years as a 10%-er…meaning I’ve only known them for 3. But they like me! They really like me! That feels good. My mother will be hosting my siblings and niece for dinner on Sunday. My brother’s birthday is Saturday. My brother-in-law’s birthday is the following Saturday. I’m sure they will be dining for a good three hours or more, too, talking about philosophy and music and zoology and whatnot. I wish I could be there in body and tastebuds, but I will be there simply in spirit.
When a bottle is poured and glasses are raised, when family gathers in the same place year after year, when we face each other in candle light, Time in its immaterial essence becomes irrelevant as well. Am I 10, learning to sip a drink and taste its fragrance for the first time? Am I 20, listening to my beloved ask my father for my hand? Am I 30, looking at my four children settling in next to their grandparents? Am I 40, appreciating my parents through my own experience as a parent? Am I 50, holding my husband and father in a deep, inward place as I use my hands, my voice, my mind to embody all of us? I am all of these ages, and others besides, when I sit at table and nourish myself, body and soul, in this banquet of love.
My father was born on July 10, 1933. He died in 2010. He had a group of work colleagues who were also born in July, and they used to call themselves the SRA Cancer Society. My father did have prostate cancer at one time, but surgery eliminated it completely. He died of Alzheimer’s. He was never one to celebrate his birthday in any obvious way, but he did enjoy fine dining. Fortunately for him, he had the wherewithal to enjoy the very finest. I benefited from the “trickle down effect” of that boon, meaning that I have dined well on his generosity myself. On the occasion of his 70th birthday, we stayed at The Benbow Inn near Garberville, CA. Located on a river in the redwoods, this beautiful resort was established in 1926. My father counted it as one of his favorite places. The first time I went there was on the way north to Oregon for my sister’s wedding. My 9-month old daughter Susan was with me. Ordinarily, children are not allowed in the dining room after 8pm, but the management made an exception for my father, who promised that the baby would be beautifully behaved…and she was. Later that evening, I realized she had a bit of a fever and digestive distress, but that only mellowed her out. The next time I visited the Inn was my father’s 70th birthday. I had begun to notice signs of memory loss and confusion during that trip, but he was completely in his comfort zone at the restaurant. My mother and brother look a bit skeptical in this photo:
I remember the delight he showed in settling in at the bar and sampling from their extensive selection of Scotch before dinner. I compare it to my absolute thrill at finding a decanter of sherry in my room. So nice of them! The next day, we had them pack us a picnic to eat while out hiking. It was elegant and tasty, but a far cry from the granola bars and such that my father usually took on his woodland walks.
My father would be participating in the heavenly banquet of eternity right now, and I can imagine him enjoying himself immensely in that setting. I’m off to get myself a little supper, probably just some hummus and a glass of Shiraz, but I eat and drink to his honor in gratitude this evening. I love you, Dad. To Life!!
“I have had delight…” said the old man, as he was taking his leave. Before he even finished his sentence, I threw my arms around his waist and embraced him.
This is the tail end of a dream I was having last night. I was singing, in harmony, with a bunch of friends as we walked, ran, skipped along toward…some place. We were singing “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”, and the old man was striding alongside, enjoying our spontaneous fun.
Disjointed happy feelings! This is definitely the result of spending an evening with my Approximate Daughter and her First Mate. AD has only recently changed her name from The Approximate Chef, her blogging moniker. Her life has become filled with other pursuits, and so the blog lies dormant (unlike a yeast bread, I doubt it will double in size with the inattention). I’m not sure what the adjective means when it modifies what kind of a daughter she is…
I regret not bringing my camera along last night. My daughter, who is all of 4 feet, 11 inches tall, was wearing patterned stockings, high boots and a mini skirt. The night before, she had a gig with the punk performance art band she’s in. She radiates energy and fun and intelligence in a combination that is the absolute antithesis of the depressing Goth style. I would have taken several pictures of her. Instead, they are locked in my memory. Especially one, near the end of the meal, when she was laughing at something Steve said about an idea he has for an avant garde restaurant. She was positively lit up – pert pixie hairdo and megawatt smile – in a way that reminded me instantly of her toddlerhood. You know how 2-year-olds laugh with their mouths wide open, their eyes crinkled up, and their tiny bodies just wriggling with delight? Somehow, my daughter is still an excited toddler.
I would also have taken a picture of the restaurant. Well, actually, I would have taken a picture of the building across the street from inside the restaurant. “Graze” is located on the square in Madison, across the street from the capitol dome, which is floodlit at night. The entire face of the restaurant is glass, modern lines, minimalist decor, and the place was packed with people. So imagine the ultra-swanky mood lighting inside, silhouettes and sparkles, and outside, the huge monolith of a granite dome bathed in greenish light. It made me feel like one of the “beautiful people” just being there.
And I would have taken a picture of the food. It was artfully delicious. Madison is celebrating Restaurant Week where establishments offer a three-course prix fixe menu, and Graze features food exclusively from local farms, so it was all very elegant and very fresh. And the cocktails were amazing! My daughter ordered The Big Small: Small’s gin infused with rosemary, lemon thyme, black pepper and capers. So fragrant and savory! Her First Mate ordered The Center of the Universe: Cane & Abe rum, chamomile honey, lemon juice, raspberry liqueur and cinnamon. Steve had his standard vodka martini, I had my standard gin & tonic. We had deviled eggs as an appetizer with that, and talked about the nearby Mustard Museum. I had a beet salad with a delicious vinaigrette, warm blue cheese fondue, and walnuts. Steve and First Mate had cod cakes with fava beans. AD had BBQ ribs with a square of mac and cheese…very Wisconsin. That was the first course. For the second, Steve & I had the Lamb Pappardelle, FM had the pork schnitzel, and AD had the most delicious tofu dish I have ever tasted. It was called Crispy Smoked Tofu and was served with caramelized sweet potatoes and cauliflower, roasted red pepper, shiitake mushroom, leeks, wild rice, curry shiitake sauce, peanuts and cilantro. I would love to find out where or how they get smoked tofu…and then purchase a truckload for myself! We drank a bottle of Bonny Doon shiraz (a winery I’ve actually been to; it’s about 30 miles from my mom’s house in California) with that course, and then got dessert. Steve & I had bread pudding with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream, and I didn’t even taste the others. I was absolutely giddy by the end of the meal. Fine dining puts me into a “happy place” like nothing else…probably because of childhood memories of my father taking us out and being proud and pleased and well fed. When he was in a good mood, the universe was all in harmony for me.
My father died of Alzheimer’s in March of 2010. Maybe he’s the old man who said, “I have had delight….” in my dream.
Me, too, Dad! Thanks for teaching me how to enjoy food and family.