Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Endings and Beginnings...
...Tomorrow Is A Brand New Year!

As the saying goes, "There's a first time for everything." There is also, of course, a last time for everything. Yesterday I went to water my plants. I use a white enamel tea kettle with red trim. It belonged to my maternal Grandmother. When my sister and I were kids we would use it to water the potted geraniums she had in her back yard.

Gramma's Kettle ©2014 Eric E. Paige
Using it stirs up a flood of memories of her and my Grandfather and the house they lived in on College Hill. I can smell the geraniums and the musty basement you navigated to get to the sloped backyard -- the house was built into the side of hill. I can vividly picture the porch with its sisal rug and a table that folded up against the wall. I remember sitting on the porch watching the hummingbirds buzz in and out of the feeder that Grampa would dutifully fill each day. I remember sitting on the porch with Gramma and Grampa watching a lightning storm, Grampa's constant and unsuccessful attempts to keep squirrels away from the bird feeder, and looking out their kitchen window as flood waters crept over the back yard of the neighbor at the foot of the hill. When my mother was in graduate school, we would spend afternoons with my grandparents. Lunch was sandwiches, made with Pepperridge Farm bread (much nicer than the gooey TipTop bread my parents bought) and served on paper plates which Gramma, a survivor of The Great Depression, would gently wash and reuse, even if parts of them were stained bright yellow from her homemade mustard pickles. Around 3:00 we would have iced tea and cookies. Gramma drew hers from a small chrome teapot of room temperature tea that she kept at the back of the stove, a habit she no doubt developed back in the days of wood stoves, when the back of the stove was handy place to keep things warm. My sister, Grampa, and I drank iced tea that Grampa made.  It was a mix of instant iced tea mixed with brewed tea and lemon juice -- not as cloyingly sweet as the instant iced tea mix packed with sugar and 'real lemon flavor' but not as bitter as the strong brew that Gramma sipped.

Anyway, yesterday I filled Gramma's white enamel kettle with red trim and almost immediately became aware of water running down my hand. The poor, little kettle had sprung a leak. I will miss using it, but will still keep it. It is a beautiful reminder of two of my favorite people and a touchstone to my childhood.

Shredded Pork Rolls
©2014 Eric E. Paige
I experienced another ending yesterday. I went to one of my favorite restaurants for the last time. After 20 some odd years in business, my favorite Vietnamese restaurant is closing. It is in the heart of the Vietnamese neighborhood just down the road from me. It is one of those 'hole in the wall' type places. It stands, unobtrusively, yet defiantly at the corner of two major streets, looking out onto what is arguably one of the neighborhood's largest and most popular Vietnamese restaurants from one side and a large, 60s-glitzy Chinese restaurant from the other.  The decor is worn, the table cloths are whatever was on sale at the local dollar store -- one summer I sat down at a table draped with a Christmas themed tablecloth. Like so many vintage buildings, the high ceiling has been covered with a drop ceiling, but the beautifully patterned floor made of various colors of tiny, hexagonal tiles remains. I first went there shortly after I moved to Chicago. Earlier in the year I had eaten at the fancier, more popular, more expensive place across the street. The food there was good, but I was on a budget -- rent in Chicago is significantly higher than rent in rural, East-Central Illinois, and though my location had changed, my salary had not. I was intrigued by the neon sign that promised 'Cheap Eats', and indeed the menu in the window sported prices that were almost half of those of the other place, so I gave it shot. I was greeted by the owner, who is also the waiter and the Maitre D'. He brought me a glass of tea and a menu.  His wife is the chef, prep cook, and dishwasher. Like Norm's wife Vera on the series 'Cheers', you don't see her, but you may hear her and husband conversing in Vietnamese through the little serving window between the dining area and the kitchen. Cash only, and the owner tends to round to the nearest dollar, so as not to have to deal with coins -- still the prices are so low, even when he rounds up in his favor, it is still a bargain. Like other restaurants in the neighborhood, they would close for several weeks at a time. In September, it's their annual trip to Vietnam, and in February a cruise to escape the cold, gray Chicago winters. Well earned on their part, as they are normally open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner.  A couple of weeks ago, I went there for Pho (pronounced 'phuh'), a Vietnamese soup with rice vermicelli, meat, and a seasoned broth with hints of star anise.  It is a served with a small platter of raw bean sprouts, lime, jalapeno, and Thai basil, all of which can be used to customize the soup to your taste.  The contrast of crunchy, raw sprouts and the savory broth make it as refreshing on Summer day as it is in the Winter.

Noodle Bowl 702
©2014 Eric E. Paige
Yesterday I had shredded pork rolls -- cooked pork, raw sprouts, clear noodles, and basil in an uncooked rice wonton wrapper, served with a spicy-sweet-tangy-savory dipping sauce that has a splash of fish sauce and shredded daikon and carrot. I also had dish number 702, the Vietnamese name escapes me, It's a bowl of rice noodles topped with shredded carrot and romaine lettuce, crushed peanuts, crispy-fried shallots, diced cucumber, an eggroll, and thin strips of tender, marinated steak.

It was delicious as always, perhaps more so because I knew it was the last time I would be having this dish at this place.  A good reminder that we should savor our experiences, as nothing is permanent.

Yes, endings can be bittersweet, but as old things leave our lives, new ones come in. I cannot water my plants with Gramma's kettle or enjoy a 702 while the owner shares his thoughts on the world we live in, but I do have the memories. As I was typing this, the management company for my apartment building delivered their monthly newsletter. Featured prominently on the cover is cardinal, a bird my sister and I associate with our Grandmother -- perhaps she is watching over me, reading this blog, perhaps it is a simple coincidence -- either way the memories and affection for her are real.

As you may recall, my resolution for 2014 was to try and savor at least part of each day.  I am human, so there are few days that that didn't happen, but most days it did and it has made a difference in the way I feel.  Like I did last January, and like I do most mornings, I started the day by watching the Sun rise over Lake Michigan, a beautiful start to the end of a year!

May 2015 bring you many blessings and the opportunity to live WholeARTedly,