One of my initial bonding points with Will was Long Island. His hometown is some distance from the towns I’m familiar with, but we’ve pointed out similarities to each other. And then laugh about it like it’s a huge in-joke. (The laughing part has only happened once or twice, but it was still something to guffaw over.)
When my dad came to the US from Japan, he met the son of a German-Italian family who invited him over for dinner. A bond grew and my dad had a second family he could visit at almost any time of the day. My grandma even turned to them for assistance and friendship, asking my surrogate grandmother to hold some items for her during a rather messy divorce.
For years I received cards and gifts from this family, but did not actually meet them until I turned 11. It was great to finally be able to put a face to the names that were signed on the bottom of cards and packages and to the voices that I’d heard so often over the phone. We walked around town, stopped by the sweet shop, said hello to the florist and butcher (both were well known to my surrogate grandmother) and visited the high school’s library to see if we could find any pictures of my dad. (If you have a chance to visit, look for the one Asian who went to Northport’s high school in any yearbooks in the mid to late 60’s.)
I loved spending time in my Grandma Kay’s house. She had a lot of little knick-knacks that each held a special memory for her, and a lot of old books that I would have eagerly devoured. For once in my life I felt like I had the grandma that was always portrayed in movies: greyish hair, white, loving, and perfect English without a Japanese accent.
I received my first cooking lesson on authentic Italian meatballs and sauce in her kitchen. We picked up the meat from O Butch (her regular butcher), she tossed in the seasoning, and I rolled out the meatballs that would be pan fried quickly and then tossed into the pot of marinara simmering away on the stove. She made everything look effortless; she told my mom that we could easily duplicate the recipe, which she wrote out on a scratch piece of paper. (We haven’t been able to get the flavor right at all and I doubt we ever will.)
I would only get to see my Grandma Kay a couple more times before her death in 2004. Similar to Will’s situation, we received a call early in the morning to inform us, then frantic flight and rental car booking, followed by numerous phone calls. I packed for cold weather for the first time in my life. And Long Island did not feel the same.
There were a lot of messy personal details that followed after her funeral, and I have yet to go back there for a visit. It’s sort of a complicated issue and I had to ask my mom to keep my NY visit in 2007 a secret so as not to hurt feelings. Perhaps one day soon I’ll suck it up and take the two hour train ride from Manhattan to Northport to revisit old stomping grounds and memories.