While some knew him as Jonah and others as Mac, we all loved and respected him. And we miss him dearly.

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Eating (In and) Out of House and Home – Part One

Much of the Dreskin family life occurs around meals. Whether it’s the breakfast room, the dining room, in front of the television or out-and-about, some of our favorite shared memories come from those food- and antic-filled moments. This makes sense because it’s often the only time during the day when all of us are in the same room together.

Ellen is the family cook (not to be taken for granted in these days of changing gender roles around the house) and much of the credit for getting all of us around one table goes to her. The funny thing about this is that Ellen’s been a vegetarian since 1999 yet she regularly prepares meat and chicken meals, asking us, “How’s it taste? I can’t make it the way you like it unless you tell me what you think.” And except for an unfortunate incident in college involving Ellen’s discovering many servings of meatloaf in her apartment garbage can (and that was when Ellen was still eating meat), we’ve never felt like we were being poisoned or subjected to unusual cruelty.

Jonah liked his mom’s cooking. A lot. Which figures, since most moms make that earnest effort to give their kids stuff they’ll actually eat. Jonah loved Ellen’s fried chicken, ground beef tacos (including the refried beans and melted cheese nachos), artichokes with melted butter (which he always asked for when she was going shopping), asparagus (“From your side,” Ellen says to me because Jonah and I shared a preference for asparagus out of the can, all soft and mushy, while no one else would go near them), mushrooms and black olives (“From my side,” says Ellen because Billy does not like mushrooms or black olives). Jonah liked shrimp the way Ellen made them (sauteed in butter and garlic) and taught me the Tao of gently placing a bit of grated cheddar atop each one. He loved mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, raw purple cabbage, dry roasted peanuts, and Fruit Loops. He learned at the feet of his wise, older sister the technique of stuffing the middle of a black olive with taco meat and cheese before popping it into his mouth. And Aiden learned from him the ancient way of mounting five black olives on five fingers before gobbling them up (the olives, not the fingers).

Saturday Night Pizza October 2000

Saturday Night Pizza
October 2000

There were other foods that Jonah loved which Ellen did not prepare. For as long as anyone can remember, Saturday nights at the Dreskins are for pizza and ice cream. This originated from our being allergic to so many of the ingredients in those two dishes, and our having been taught from Jonah’s Grandpa Jake the effectiveness of rotating and diversifying our foods, that we’ve always devoted one night a week to permitting ourselves a meal comprised of all our forbidden allergens. Jonah’s pizza order was always for mushrooms and black olives. And his favorite ice cream included the following Ben and Jerry’s flavors: Magic Brownies, Half-Baked, New York Super Fudge Chunk Brownie Batter, Chocolate Fudge Brownie, Fossil Fuel, and Everything But The … (he liked chocolate). You can see, that with so many beloved flavors, there was value in limiting our ice cream consumption to one night a week.

By the way, Jonah did not eat a lot of junk food. He was actually pretty careful about what he put in his body. At home, anyway. Which freed him up to have some fairly guilt-free fun when he was away from home (and on Saturday nights, of course). Nevertheless, he was quite fond of Charleston Chews and Peanut Chews. And while I can confidently assure you that he reached for the broccoli whenever it graced our table, when time came to “junk out” the aforementioned were among his faves.

Ben & Jerry’s! May 2007

Ben & Jerry’s!
May 2007

Every Saturday afternoon I’d arrive home from temple with lunch in hand. I’d drive into Ardsley and stop by Lisa and Tony’s deli where sandwich orders would first be confirmed by cellphone but were always fairly predictable. Jonah’s tastes changed a little over time, but our family’s memory of his sandwich order was roast beef, mustard, swiss cheese and lettuce on a roll (later modified to include turkey along with the roast beef). We’d all gather in the family room to eat while watching television, Jonah sitting just a few feet away in front of his computer, enjoying his sandwich and (always) a bottle of root beer (see “Bottled Up,” July 12, 2009). Later, he and I occasionally jettisoned our sandwich orders and I’d bring home a half-pound of pastrami, which we’d fry in a pan, divvy up and consume at our respective locations.

Infrequently, Jonah would cook for himself. He only had one dish he knew how to prepare. For the kid I sometimes called Jonah Macarona, that dish could only have been macaroni and cheese. Kraft’s Easy Mac was his brand of choice. Jonah loved macaroni and cheese, perhaps because he shared a name with it, perhaps because he just loved mac ‘n cheese. Whatever the reason, Easy Mac was … well … easy for Mac to make, and became for me somewhat analogous with Jonah himself: tasty, much-liked, warm and gooey, and rarely an inconvenience. I keep a box of Easy Mac around because it’s a light-hearted reminder of my light-hearted kid.

There was always a lot of laughter at our dinner table. Everyone took turns being its cause, and it made this time precious to us all. It cracked us up that Jonah always asked for a puppy dog when he wanted someone to hand him a napkin. His confusion really wasn’t his fault; Ellen had memorably remarked how funny it would be if a child grew up being taught by his parents that napkins were called puppies and puppies were called napkins. Frankly, I think Jonah adored his mother, and referring to napkins as puppy dogs was one of the ways he’d tell her that he loved her.

As with most families, many table-antics were designed to annoy but it was pretty much always in jest, not in anger. For example, if there was ever any aluminum foil on the table (usually from baked potatoes), Jonah would make sure it got balled up and chucked at someone (usually Aiden, who sat directly across from him). Katie, who sat to Jonah’s left, occasionally got into the who-can-I-annoy act too, having a subtle little habit of pushing Jonah’s chair a little bit away from her whenever he got up from the table. Eventually Jonah would find himself seated at the far edge, encroaching on his mom’s elbow room (she sat to his perpendicular right, at the table’s end), with Katie quietly reveling in her widely-opened spaces.

I wish I could remember more from the dinner table. These were such pleasurable moments for our family, and no one thought they should be written down because we thought there’d always be more. No one stopped to consider that one day one of us might no longer be at the table and that there might not be any new antics from him so we’d better keep track of the ones we’re seeing now. No one thought about that.

We had our assigned seats at each of our two tables which sometimes caused a ruckus when one of us deliberately sabotaged the arrangement. By and large, however, each of us knew our place. Or not.

Jonah liked to lean back on the rear two legs of his chair, always drawing a corrective advisement from his mom, but never sufficient for him to cease this habit (which we also witnessed as he sat at his computer in the family room). I can’t remember him ever falling backwards.

Sometimes breakfast just got weird circa 1997

Sometimes breakfast just got weird
circa 1997

In the breakfast room, Jonah, Ellen and Aiden sat at the table’s end, boxing in Katie and me. This meant that someone else would always have to get up to retrieve something from the kitchen if either Katie or I came up short. Something I loved about Jonah was that he never complained when asked to do that. But that was Jonah. On Friday afternoons, he helped Ellen get the house ready for Shabbat. When winter or spring arrived, he helped me change the screen in the front door. PGT learned this about him, that he could always be counted on when someone needed a helping hand. Kutz Camp did, as well. Jonah would offer his assistance to anyone at anytime.

Late Friday evening, I come home from temple and prepare for the next morning’s Torah Study. I often throw a bag of popcorn into the microwave to give me something to munch on while I work at the breakfast room table. It brings a little bit of foot-traffic from the family room as various Dreskins take from my bowl. Jonah always yelled at me for burning the popcorn. He believed that microwave popcorn should be perfectly prepared, every kernel popped but none burned. I enjoy the occasional charred piece, which he believed ruined the entire lot so Jonah would try and make sure I entered 2:15 on the timer and not my preferred 2:30. If he spied that occasional charred piece of corn, he’d dismiss the entire bowl. My son the purist. Ah well, more for me.

In September 2007, I spent a week living on a dollar a meal in order to try and understand what it meant to live on Food Stamps in this country. During that week, I made no popcorn because I couldn’t afford it. But Jonah did, and when I asked him for a nickel’s worth, he dug out the worst pieces in the bowl and gave them to me. You might think this was mean, but he was just trying to give me my favorite pieces. If his popcorn bowl reached perfection as a result, that was just a happy consequence of his goodwill.

During Jonah’s nineteen years, he consumed somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 meals. While I understand that I wasn’t with him for them all, there are still thousands and thousands that we did share. When I consider how brief his life was, this number helps me remember that while I miss him a lot, my own life is much, much richer because, for a good while, he was here.


One Response to “Eating (In and) Out of House and Home – Part One”

  • Anonymous:

    Yes, I read the whole thing and yes, I laughed out loud several times. He was some kid, Billy.


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