It started with a bialy. Crust Bakery, a terrific bakery in Fenton, has bialys. When I first saw that in a Facebook post, suddenly in my mind I was with my grandmother in her Chicago apartment, munching contentedly on an onion bialy with cream cheese and sipping orange juice with the Tribune spread around the table. The lake is beautiful out the east-facing windows, and I’m with one of my favorite people in all the world. Her smile comes easily, and hers is a smile that is complete and genuine, her eyes curved into gleeful little half-moons.
From there, it’s just a short trip further into the past and my grandfather has joined us. In fact, I’m up extra early with him, grandma still sleeping. The sun is coming up over the lake, and I’m drinking coffee. I’m awfully young for that, but it’s about half milk, and it tastes creamy and bittersweet with a teaspoon of sugar in it. And always, there’s the Tribune on the table. I’m looking at comics and sports, my grandfather at the news and opinion and business sections. He gets the sports after awhile, too. I’m most interested in how the Dodgers are doing, me being an LA boy, and one of these visits to Chicago is made extra special when my grandfather takes me to a Cubs-Dodgers game. It’s a sunny day, warm but not too humid. We walk block after block west on Addison to Wrigley. It’s one of the great days of my childhood, me dangerously wearing my Dodgers cap in enemy territory, munching on peanuts and hot dogs, and spending hours one on one with my grandfather as the Dodgers beat the Cubs and we walk home again. That day, like all of the others when I stayed with him and my grandmother in Chicago, started with milky, bittersweet coffee.
The other day, I took my kids to school, and when my son and his friend ran into their classroom without saying goodbye, the friend’s mom said, “What am I? Chopped liver?” We chuckled about our independent little kiddos, getting so big and changing so fast, and while we laughed I was surprised when a thought flashed into my mind about my other grandmother, the one in LA, and the amazing chopped liver that she made. My grandfather and I would have chopped liver sandwiches, and say what you will, those sandwiches were amazing. The hazy LA sunshine came through the living room windows, and we munched away happily. And again, the moment was about the time and the place and the food and, most of all, the people. It’s always about the people. People that we love, people that we miss, people that we always want back yet always have with us.
Next time I’m in Fenton, I think I need to grab a bialy.