I experience an extended melancholy over the course of the same seven months each year. Intensities of sadness and mild depression ebb and flow; never overwhelming, just a conscious pervasive mostly low-level sorrow. I know the source: missing my parents. Other times of the year also bring occasional spikes of grief, both expected (like Passover) and random. But this stretch holds almost continuous sentimental touch points:
- August: Mom’s birthday.
- September: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when my folks would host the extended family to feast on traditional seasonal Jewish fare. I find myself playing with honey cake recipes, and dipping slices of apples and pears into honey in hopes of sweetening more than the new year.
- October: My parent’s anniversary and Dad’s birthday two days apart. Keith’s birthday falling within the same week deepens both ends of the bitter-sweet spectrum.
- November: Thanksgiving, which my mom adamantly claimed as HER holiday, comes with more memories of regular extended family food-focused gatherings. And earlier in the month our daughter’s birthday.
- December: The anniversary of Mom’s death (2000). Hanukkah stirs nostalgia of sizzling latkes and their flavor dolloped with sour cream and applesauce. Also, Christmas, my in-laws’ birthdays and their wedding anniversary.
- February: The anniversary of Dad’s death (2005) juxtaposed with our son’s birthday.
I’m not unaware that these doldrums coincide with the seasons of the year when northern-hemisphere nature itself is slowing, graying, turning cold and dormant, dying. Even before my parents’ deaths my mood and energy level leaned towards the blues in fall and winter. Despite the discomfort, I have no desire to see this cycle end. The longer it goes on the more I appreciate its diverse impact on me. Memories – thoughts, feelings and experiences – are extremely precious and fleeting, sometimes surprisingly suddenly so.
My dinner plan last week included a day that simply listed chicken and roasted vegetables. I knew the veggie part: beets, eggplant, carrots, bell peppers, onions, garlic. But I remained uninspired for the chicken. I wanted something easy, but none of my go-to chicken recipes appealed. I procrastinated deciding.
Last week also included those February dates noted above. Wide-ranging thoughts of my parents dominated my mind. And I remembered…
When I was little, one of my favorite dinners Mom made was “chicky-icky.” This consisted of baking chicken pieces with salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder sprinkled over the skin. After removing the baked chicken, Mom dumped cooked white rice into the pan and mixed all of the seasoned fat, juice and scraped browned chicken bits into the rice. Although it might indicate otherwise, the actually affectionate name for the dish likely caught on from a baby-talk description of how the browned chicken skin stuck to our fingers as we ate. This may sound unappetizing to some, but spice, salt and fat were the food elements of my youth. And food was integral to how my parents manifested love.
Prepping chicken thighs “just like mom always did” dissipated my melancholy. As the chicken and vegetables baked, our kitchen smelled like holistic home – the olfactory cues past and present thoroughly blending. The first bite of browned crunchy salty spicy skin and meat brought a gush of childhood happiness. Spring is on the way.