Don’t Eat the Caesar Salad, or Remembrances of My Granddad.

*Image above by Sarah Sherman Samuel.

My grandfather kept Brachs spiced gumdrops in a Waterford crystal glass jar in his library. I preferred the green ones, but I’d take whatever flavor he’d deposit into my hand, even the unsavory licorice ones, because he was Grandad and — while among the gentlest and most compassionate of souls I have ever met — he was also exquisitely formal. You knew instinctively not to run in their grandly appointed apartment, and you also knew not to touch anything.

Their apartment was a hush.

If he wore anything besides a suit, I cannot recall it. He must have, I know: he played golf and there is a fleeting vision of him in short sleeves by the Adirondack chairs at Chevy Chase Club, but it disappears as quickly as it materializes, a soap bubble of a mirage.

His suits were beautifully tailored, purchased from haberdasheries in London, a favorite destination of he and my grandmother’s, and he often wore hats — the kind gentlemen wore back in the 30s and 40s that would have seemed costume-like on just about anyone else. Each of the sons-in-law in my immediate family would eventually inherit one of his many hats, and we now keep a jaunty straw boater of his perched on the bookshelves of our Manhattan apartment, a diminitive homage to his still-remembered style.

I often recall him in the pews of Church. He was a devout Catholic, attending Mass daily, always formally dressed. He once wrote a slim book about the Mass for his grandchildren, fearing, I think, an erosion in the seriousness which which it was observed by youth at the time and determined to shore at least his grandchildren up in the face of such decline. The book, though, is only partly admonition. Much of it is theology, reminding us why we stand and sit and kneel at particular points and articulating the symbolic beauty of its rituals. He loved the Mass, and he loved his faith, and he loved his God.

When he visited us at my childhood home, we all sat in the formal living room — off-limits save for special guests like him. We’d perch on the uncomfortable antique furniture in there, waiting to be spoken to, or dismissed, and I’d watch in wait for him to look over at me, furtively, at some point in the midst of an adult conversation unintelligible to me and make his hand into a little gun, pointer finger extended and thumb pressing down atop it, winking at me, a sly smile on his face. I laughed every time.

He had close to twenty grand-children, and most of us lived within driving distance of where he lived in Chevy Chase. And yet I can recall him pulling up the driveway of my childhood home in his silver gray Cadillac, vanity plate PATSY — his nickname for my discerning and elegant grandmother, who was “Mia” to her grandchildren, “Mother” to her five sons and two daughters, and “Mrs. Abell” to everybody else — and parking in the cul de sac to fetch me and take me out to lunch. Just me. Out of nearly twenty grandchildren, seven children (and their respective spouses), and the seeming thousands of adoring friends who would one day line the pews of Blessed Sacrament Church to pay their respects to him after he passed away.

He made me feel special, gallantly taking the time to park his car and retrieve me from inside my house when I was more accustomed to a few sharp honks of the horn and a “Jennifer! Hurry up!” as I’d race out the door. At lunch, he listened to what I had to say. He ate slowly and attentively, never rushing to order as soon as the menus were placed in our hands, and always taking the time to acknowledge the server by name–and he knew most of them very well, as he routinely ate at either Chevy Chase Club or Columbia Country Club, the only two venues for our tete-a-tete lunches. He let me choose whatever I wanted to eat with the exception of caesar salad, which, he said, Mia would not have permitted because it had raw egg in it. I never pressed the matter; though I was curious about the prohibition, if Mia said no, then it was a no. Beyond that, I found it equal parts endearing and strange that Grandad would cow to anyone else’s preferences, including those of my grandmother. At the age of seven or eight, it seemed that adults could do whatever they wanted to do. This miniature deference to his wife stuck with me as proof of the deep respect my grandfather had for my grandmother, and gave shape to an aspirational kind of solidarity I hoped to one day cultivate with my own spouse: a united front against raw egg–and whatever other threats lurked outside.

I especially enjoyed the fact that he permitted me to order dessert, a rarity in dining experiences with my immediate family, and I always asked for the same thing: peppermint ice cream served up in a coupe with a pirouette cookie. He’d let me eat every last spoonful, never rushing me or performing that faux-patience I’d observed in other adults, when they’d clutch their purse or keys in their lap, ready to spring out of their chairs. We often lingered at the table after I’d finished, too–a peculiar luxury.

I wish I could remember more of the substance of our conversations, but there is only this: an education in iambic pentameter, during which he taught me how to count poetic feet using my fingers, and the extraordinary interest he took in me as a child, which, I think, in part, has contributed to the successes I have enjoyed thus far in my life. You matter was the subtext.

Writing for me is a rejection of the inevitable erosion of memory. It is a refusal of death. I sit here in my 14th floor apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and I feel my grandfather walk quietly down the carpeted corridor of his Chevy Chase home in his trim gray suit, sit next to me on the ivory leather of his Cadillac as my black patent Mary Janes stick straight out in front of me, wink at me from the floral upholstered sofa in the living room of the stone house in which I grew up. He is here, in the don’t-eat-the-caesar-salad and the unfussy gold wedding band on his finger and the word haberdashery and the scansion of a Shakespearean couplet (I still use my fingers to count) and the sliver of the pocket doors through which I watched my mother cry into my father’s shirt in the den after he had passed away. And he is here in the walls of this apartment, and in the boater hat on the top shelf in our living room, and in the way I have always known that I matter.

He is not here, I know, but the writing can make it so.

I write to staunch the loss.

Post-Scripts.

+My grandfather was also my first patron as a young writer. (I recount many of the same details above.)

+More writing in the face of loss.

+On to brighter things: Yoox has some exceptionally good finds right now: these Paris Texas sandals, this camel sweater, and this Gucci dress.

+If you have a little boy: Ralph Lauren polos are on sale for $13!!! Stocking up for next summer in all the pastels they have!

+This elegant upholstered bench sells out every time they re-release it. LOVE. Great for an entryway or at the foot of a bed — or even as a dining bench.

+One of my girlfriends has been decorating her soon-to-be-born daughter’s nursery, and she has been lusting after this Caitlin Wilson rug for it. She asked whether I could find something comparable at a lower price point — ET VOILA!

+This pineapple dress makes me happy. This is the kind of lightweight, easy-to-throw-on piece I live in during the summer and I especially like (as a busy mom!) that it would not entail any adjusting. I am so over having to adjust straps, keep an eye on cleavage, worry about the length in bending over — !! These types of breezy maxis are just my speed.

+Just TWO of these stunning Brother Vellies heels left.

+Just ordered a pair of these inexpensive, Valentino-inspired flip flops in the nude color to keep by the door. I always need something to slip into to run the trash out / drop things off in the lobby / etc. Perfect!

+Such a sweet gift for a one-year-old. Going to keep this one on file…

+These wet/dry bags are the absolute best! I have used them to keep my children’s items separate in my diaper bag forever. Genius as — if needed — they can contain soiled/wet clothes and then you just wipe out the interior.

+These striped bolster pillows would liven up any outdoor furniture — they transport me to a resort in the Mediterranean! Imagine alongside some lemon-print dinnerware…or a lemon-print dress! (Look for less.)

+Speaking of lemons, I have long loved this Schumacher print for a pillow.

+Tory Burch just restocked its sure-to-sell-out-again tie dye collection. Run.

+Hill House founder Nellie Diamond described the ethos of her nap dress as borderline “victorian ghost.” I love that descriptor — it also captures the vibe of this on-trend Doen blouse, which is sure to sell out. Pair with trendy jeans or get the look for less with this epic H&M score.

+More exaggerated collars here.

+Make your laundry/ironing day just a little more special. (I use The Laundress’ ironing water but I’m curious about the bergamot scent!)

+Love this $36 denim dress for fall! Would wear with some smart snakeskin flats.

+Ditsy florals FTW.

+Thinking about my granddad is just another reminder to start planting trees under whose shade I do not intend to sit.

+When I was in love and studying abroad and deep in the process of self-formation

7 Comments

  1. What a beautiful testament to your grandfather. It makes my heart ache for mine, though in a thankful way for all the memories that we too have together.
    I thirst for the day you write your first novel (you must!). You are such a superb writer.

    1. Ah – thank you so much, Kristen, for the encouragement.

      My Aunt wrote me to say that she and my Uncle were sitting in “a pool of warm tears — the good kind” after reading this post. That was exactly how I felt, and how you described it too — a heart ache, but a thankful one.

      xx

  2. What a lovely remembrance of your grandfather. It sounds like ours were cut from the same cloth. My grandfather passed away in 2009 and was just the most elegant, sophisticated man. We also had a very formal relationship, but it was clear he took a lot of pleasure in his grandchildren. A lot of him lives in in me and around me- many of the pieces of art on my walls came from his home, and I carry his first name as my middle name. We will carry on their legacies.

    1. Oh how sweet to carry his first name in your full name! I love that. Cheers to two great gentlemen! 🙂

  3. This is such a sweet piece of writing — I can feel the love you have for your grandfather. The reference to the Waterford jar of gumdrops made me smile, as I keenly remember having the same treat at my own grandparents’ house — that and ribbon candy, which my grandfather would parcel out with a smile. Although that grandfather of mine passed away while I was in college, I still think about him often — I was just talking about him last night. There’s something so special about the grandparent-grandchild relationship, no? You capture it so eloquently here.

    xx

    1. So sweet. It’s funny how the deceased can visit with us, become so present in our lives, at such unexpected times in our life–sounds like your grandfather was paying you a visit last night and through the writing of this post. I live for these visits! xx

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