Picnics in the Cold
Food...it's all in the memories
I'm not quite white enough for White people, and barely brown enough for Mexicans, but I identify more with my Mexican half. I don't have to think hard about why. It's the food. Food is the glue of my Sonoran Mexican family and heritage. It's the chorizo and egg burritos my grandma made and wrapped in tin foil, that I think of every time I take a road trip. It's the tamale making on Christmas eve that carries on family tradition. It's the menudo and pazole I make when it's cold, that remind me of my aunts and uncles. My dad's homemade beef jerky takes me back to my immigrant grandfather's house where he hung meat from a cow that broke her leg on the ranch, on outdoor lines to dry in the Arizona heat. Even on the other side of my family, I can't help but think of my grandmother, a badass single mom of six - including a special needs child, at a time when society didn't recognize special needs - every time I eat potato salad with eggs. Food is the glue of my memories.
I grew up in pretty humble circumstances to a very hard working blue collar dad with a GED, and a mom with a High School diploma who had a career at an insurance company. My dad worked construction, drove trucks, and even opened a very successful Mexican restaurant. He was a serial entrepreneur and had several small businesses. My mom worked her day job, helped run the restaurant after work, then did the books for my dad's businesses at night. They made some unique decisions and sacrifices that few parents make, to ensure my future. They still live a humble, but incredibly full life.
My life today is a direct result of the plans they had for me. I have lived and worked all over the United States and the world. I'm able to provide my own kids with incredible opportunities, the likes of which no one before them on either side of my family has ever had. Not only did my parents help set me down the path to my current circumstances, they have always demonstrated compassion to others and what true charity is about. My dad is the first to give the actual coat off his back when he sees someone in need, and has done it on more than one occasion.
The decisions my parents made have lasting generational impact. My kids have lived a life that would be unimaginable to any of my ancestors, even recent ones. Their lives are unimaginable to many people I know. They have attended an International school abroad, flown in Business class (a perk of my job when I took a long term expat assignment), and traveled the globe. They have eaten, and loved, the best food the world has to offer; pintxos in the Basque country, pasta and gelato in Rome and Milan, paella by the sea in Barcelona, steak tartare in Paris, raclette in Zug. But when I ask them what they remember most about their time living in Spain, they say it was the big, long Sunday meals shared with our friends at the local restaurant in a tiny town outside of Barcelona, or the pizza we ate with the same big group at "the goat" restaurant...a pizza place owned by an Italian couple in another small town, with a giant mural of Lago di Gaurda on the wall, and a goat in the yard next door. Food is the glue of their memories too.
I recently travelled to the opposite coast to see my parents, whom I hadn't visited in over two years because of Covid. My mom has some significant medical challenges and chronic illness, and spending time with horses is therapy for her. So after some time with the horses, we sat on some rickety chairs at a dusty table at the edge of the riding arena in the damp cold, and ate a packed lunch my dad had made us; boiled eggs, beef jerky, a banana, and a cafe mocha we made with coffee from a thermos and Swiss Miss packets. That's a memory I will cherish forever.
Not only is food the glue of priceless family memories, it's also the case for memories with friends and even time spent completely alone. Like the time we moved our family - four people and four dogs in two trucks pulling trailers - across the entire United States from the San Francisco Bay Area to Maryland. We stopped somewhere in the midwest to have an impromptu picnic in plastic lawn chairs on a grassy median between a Wendy's and a Shake Shack, with lifelong friends who had driven from Iowa to see us. And one of the strongest memories I have of walking the Camino de Santiago solo, is sitting alone on a rock by the side of the road in the afternoon sun in rural Galicia, to give my blistered feet a rest and eat a bocadillo sandwich wrapped in paper that someone had made for me that morning in a cafe.
Food isn't everything. But it's a lot. It's the glue of memories of family, friends, and good times and bad. So this morning, as I write this while I eat my Soyrizo burrito in a low carb tortilla, I think of my Grandmother, and every time she packed the real deal, wrapped in tin foil, for me to take to whatever adventure I was about to head off to.