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Tina Lai - The Global Gourmet

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"The Taste of Memory"
Children and Death

spicesYoung children are not afraid of death. For this reason, we as parents keep them away from the ledges of apartment windows and from swimming pools. Children’s natural lack of fear, have at many times resulted in serious or fatal injuries to themselves. Death understandably, is a difficult concept to grasp for children as their perception of time is constricted to their own experience of it. Short lives, short memories.

My father, sixty-four years of age, died unexpectedly from a heart attack two years ago. A quiet and unapproachable man, we have had always a strained and estranged relationship. I married into a different culture and moved far away from California to Europe.

My daughter who was 7 years old at the time, remembered only a handful of visits to her grandparents home. Her recollection of her grandfather was that mostly he kept to himself, reading newspapers or cooking. My father was a chef, and part of the lack of language interaction he expressed in the foods that he prepared for us during these infrequent visits.

When he passed away, it was a rite of passage for me, like being being bumped up to “real” parent, “real” adult. Suddenly, I was expected to have all the answers to the difficult questions of life, “ Mommy, what’s going to happen to Grandpa now? Is he going to heaven?” I felt caught off-guard on my own lack of experience with death, and my lack of introspection, “ I don’t know, it’s one of life’s mystery, sweetheart” seemed to present the most honest answer.

During the few days after we flew in for the funeral, my daughter was for the most part fascinated with the number of people greeting her. Having grown up among mostly Americans and Europeans, seeing so many Chinese friends and family was a real novelty. At the service, a slide presentation of her grandfather’s life made her realize that he had also been a child once, as well as me.

dishesDue to the language barrier and geographic distance between my daughter and her grandfather, she never affectively bonded to him. The little memory she had of him was of his food. Food was a language in our family that we all understood, and in my father’s case, it was articulated to communicate love, concern and care.

We all remember him for his dumplings and his famous black bean crab and many other unrecorded recipes.

As a tribute to my father, and to share his legacy to my daughter, I prepared a special dinner after his funeral. The menu included some of his best dishes and in addition, some of my own inspired creations. Cooking that meal for my family, made me both happy and sad, like taking his place as being the “good cook” in the family. As I stood over the stove, I looked at my daughter on the stool next to me and I am touched suddenly by a tinge of remembrance and self-reflection.

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