As I relished the spicy steam from my gingerbread latte, Richard told me how frustrated he is that so many social events focus on food. Why do we always have to be eating? Hmm…. But this aroma, the warmth from the cup, signal to me our relationship—that safe cozy haven where I can confess anything. I believe in eating together, because food is memory. Savoring it is our secret language that says I want to be here with you more than anywhere else. Food brings people back to me—like Pam.
Pam and I spent every day at the swim club racing lengths underwater, lungs aching, until the snack shack opened. Our yen was cardboard microwaved pizza that we peeled off the crinkled cellophane, and Cokes with real cherry syrup. Then we lay prone on the redwood picnic benches, baby oil slathered. We poked our tongues into the supple vanilla centers of oozy caramels and felt sophisticated beyond our years.
Every noon from my brown-bag lunch, I pulled out a white sugar sandwich on white buttered bread with the crusts cut off, wrapped in white waxed paper, corners scotch-taped together—the perfect, clean, sanitized meal, made by my mother.
Tom had a rhubarb patch in his back yard. We sat in the dirt beneath the wide, woody leaves and gnawed on the sour, pulpy stalks, rusty juice dripping down our chins, until our parents called us in for more mundane dinner.
The smell of burnt sugar permeated the street fair in Dusseldorf. My teeth snapped the rubbery skin of a weissbraut. I spent my last American dollars on a hag marionette with scraggly hair and a twig basket. Princess Diana and my father died that day.
The most dangerous thing I ever ate was cold chicken noodle soup at Amy’s house after school, right from the can, with nobody home to tell us to heat it up.
Anne and I hiked the Lake District countryside, climbing perilous stone gates, staring down ewes, and lucking upon the pub with the red geraniums in the window. Beneath the bee-enchanting tree, we gorged on a ploughman’s lunch of dark bread, ham, salty cheeses, pickled onions, and Orkney ale. The way back was breezy.
Our hall closet protected the Christmas cookies, nestled in festive tins—reindeer cut-outs, thin and crisp; thumb prints, with a dollop of white butter frosting; potato chip cookies, proving the chip was versatile for more than tuna casseroles. We ate bowls of them late at night, reflected in the sparkling glass balls on the tree. Then I climbed under my cool sheets and prayed I would fall asleep before my father extinguished the Christmas lights.
Mr. Lu orders all my favorite dishes when I visit his company in China—lotus with sticky rice pressed into the pod crevices, sour fried dragon fish, tiny lake shrimp with vinegar. This is how we talk. We can’t share words without help, but by feeding me delicious sweet salty Suzhou food, he cares for my comfort.
Food is memory—sometimes sweet, sometimes bittersweet—a secret language that brings you back to me when I need you most.
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