“I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was learning how to be a human being.”
This weekend, I began reading Mourad Lahlou’s cookbook Mourad: new Moroccan.
But to call this a cookbook is inexact, inadequate.
This book is a guide to a Moroccan way, a glimpse into the living soul of a cuisine, and perhaps of a man.
The opening essay is a memoir of how the author came to cooking. His loving stories of childhood in a multi-generational home in the medina of Marrakech are tempting and compelling.
The conclusion of one section — he accompanies his grandfather on the daily market run to the souk, with produce first, then meat — ends with the arresting sentence I quoted at the outset. That sentence grabbed me and caused quick, happy tears as memories of similar learning exploded in my mind.
I did not know my maternal grandfather; he died when I was six.
But I have much of my father in me, and much of his father.
Pop Carter, who died in 1985, had a short fuse. I do too, although I like to think this is mellowing with age and self-realization.
He also had a patience about him, and an orderliness that came with being a draftsman. I remember the organization of his workbench, with screws and nuts and nails and washers and tools and implements all carefully sorted and stored. I remember how he used the word “kindly” in unexpected places in sentences. He was gentle. And respected. And sincere.
I never really knew him, though. We lived apart, and we saw each other in visits several times yearly. I have no idea of his politics, or what he liked to read (if he read at all).
What I have now, in my late 50s (how strange it is to write that!), is a lasting memory of love, of kindness to others, of the gift of banter and putting others at ease, of watching him at ease in his world. Of being centered.
And I think that is a part of what it is to learn to be a human being.
I pause to wipe my eyes and love a bit on MacCarthy, my new companion who is more at ease today as I write than he was yesterday. This poor damaged dog, so in need of love . . . .
My own father had that same gift of banter. I saw him do this any time I went to the bank with him. He had a kind word for anyone he met there. I’ve written on this blog previously of this gift that I do think he passed on to me.
I am writing on Sunday, after watching this morning the Sunday Eucharist from Washington National Cathedral. A mention of a Red Cross blood drive in the District of Columbia pinged quickly to memories of my father’s involvement with the local blood drives in Lee’s Summit. And again: strong recollections of him greeting, joking, counseling, soothing.
Unless I’m delusional, I think this same spirit lives in me.
Watching him with others = learning how to be a human being.
The kitchen was a central place at family gatherings. While others were watching sports on television, I preferred to be in the kitchen with my mother and other female relatives who were cooking our feast. I am not part of large extended family. That relative was most often G-ma, and sometimes Aunt Esther. I don’t have strong memories of chatter or gossip or teasing in the kitchen, though I’m certain that kind of chatter happened. And if I was in the kitchen, I was listen and observing . . . and learning how family works.
Wads of my domestic memories are wrapped tightly “with those whose rest is won,” as the great hymn text says. Last Friday, I was in the kitchen working on lunch while I attended a virtual meeting, my camera and mic on mute. And I had a sudden flashback to Aunt Esther’s kitchen. She’d be cleaning up the breakfast dishes and prepping for lunch whilst listening to the daily Kitchen Klatter talk show from Shenandoah, Iowa. In an instant I felt as if I were channeling her spirit . . . .
(More about Kitchen Klatter.)
From these strong women I learned how to be a human being.
I don’t know why that phrase struck me so forcefully Sunday morning. Perhaps it’s a result of the physical isolation brought on by this damn virus. Perhaps I was just in a place of tenderness and emotional need. No matter. I’m glad to have had the nudge to remember, and reminisce, and realize.