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Flavour Guy: This Old Man remembers That Old Man, better known as Dad

“Hey old man,” my daughter calls me. And I laugh, wearing the phrase lightly. I don’t consider myself old (who does?). Sometimes it’s Pops, occasionally Dad. Once, when she was much younger it was Barry and I told her that didn’t work for me.

I called my dad, Dad. Father was too formal. Pops was what some guy behind the counter in an Archie comic might be called, as in “Let’s go down to Pop’s for a soda.”

For me, Larry Lazar was always Dad. He was born of a time, just before WWI, old enough to serve in WWII and to come of age when life seemed to offer everything to a young guy fresh from the service and starting in a manufacturing business.

He made lamps and shades. He did well enough to send three of us to summer camps, private schools, and universities. He never quite understood what any of us were doing when we were in university. I majored in psychology, liberal arts. What could that possibly mean to someone who served in the air force and soon after was supporting a family? He used to say I took up space, but he didn’t mean aeronautics. It’s still a good line.

As the three of us created families of our own, Dad watched, bonded with the grandchildren and from the sidelines, watched the game evolve. We moved to our own rhythms. As he grew older, he moved to his as well.

Dad lived a long time, dying at 101. Larry Lazar had always had a fierce anger. When life did not go his way, he lashed out. Maybe that was not surprising for someone who lost his mother during the flu epidemic of 1918 and who always called his father, in the rare times he mentioned him to me, and not with affection, as “The Old Man.” But in his last few years, after the anger of realizing that he could not do what he once did, could not drive in his 90s, would not play golf since all of his golf buddies no longer played, had to keep lists (“I never had to do that before,” he said one day over the phone. “Welcome to the club,” I answered), after the anger at getting old and what it was doing to him, came a grace, a peace, a joy just to be with family. It was a wonderful final gift.

In those last years we would go for walks in the Jean Talon market, which he had loved when I was a boy. We would eat in one of the food stalls near or at the edge of the market: a pasta store with a couple of tables where I knew he could handle a small plate of spaghetti or another where we would have soup and split a slice of pizza, places where he would not be embarrassed if he had trouble getting to the chair or eating the meal. He was near 100 then and his biggest concern was his dignity. In his mind he was always younger, dapper, confident, and aren’t we all.

So this old man remembers that old man, gone but probably more than I would admit, very much a part of me.

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The Larry Lazar sandwich was a classic. He called it a grinder, a New England term for a sub. My mother was from New England, so he may have picked it up during their courting days.
Bon Appétit says that one derivation for grinder is that this sandwich was originally made on crusty
Italian loaves. They were harder to eat than simple sandwiches made with white bread.

Dad’s grinders were loaded: tomatoes, lettuce, slices of all beef salami, maybe cheese, maybe mayo (well that’s how I make them now), always mustard. The loaves were arm’s length and sliced into six inch handfuls. The key was the salami, a yard long and bought from Snowdon Deli, then hung for at least a couple of weeks.

By the time it was taken down for the grinder, the salami was hard as dried sausage with a strong beefy flavour. It was tough but hearty. A grinder, indeed. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

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