And so it turned out; Mr. Hosea Hussey being from home, but leaving Mrs. Hussey entirely competent to attend to all his affairs. Upon making known our desires for supper and a bed, Mrs. Hussey, postponing further scolding for the present, ushered us into a little room, and seating us at a table spread with the relics of a recently concluded repast, turned round to us and said—“Clam or Cod?”
205 Thompson Shore Road, Manhasset, New York, 11030. When as a child I was given an address book I wrote that down as neatly as possible. I had a desire, never fulfilled, to take something beautiful like a new address book and make it more beautiful with lovely, grown-up handwriting, but what happened instead was that I wouldn’t judge the length of the lines correctly and have to cram letters in at the end or would make an error and have to x it out. Nana’s was the first address I would add, because she was the person I loved most in the world outside of my immediate family, and because I wrote to her and she wrote back. It’s probably more accurate to say that in the reverse order. Her letters began My Dearest Darling, and, believing them abundant, I have lost or thrown out all except the one I found seven months ago in my basement while I was employing a professional organizer. She darted in and out of the storage room, printing labels and moving boxes, while I stood underneath the lightbulb listening to the blood run through my ears.
The house is gone. The plot it was built on was large enough to hold two houses, according to the zoning laws, and so now, after a touch of skulduggery on the part of the person who purchased it from Nana’s estate—she died in her bed there—it does. Neither my father nor my aunt could drive on the street after this happened, and I couldn’t either, although I have looked at it on Google Maps. Nonetheless the house is entirely recoverable for me, with the exception of the basement, the steep stairs to which I almost never descended, though they departed from a door in the kitchen, where, things being what they were, we spent most of our time. It’s tempting just to list the things I used to eat at Nana’s house, the things she bought, rather than made: Mallomars, frozen Sara Lee poundcake, sweet Nabisco zwieback teething biscuits, pretzel rods, canned pears and peaches in their syrup, chocolate kisses. She kept a bowl of realistic fake fruit on the table and I remember sitting next to the bowl, looking from the three prongs on my fork to the three holes in the electrical outlet on the wall, and back again, and then raising the fork up to put it where it so obviously belonged—and everyone screaming.
When my parents wanted to be rid of us for a night, which they now assure me they never did, we stayed at Nana’s, and she made us dinner. Every dinner began with a half grapefruit that Nana cut roughly around the outside of the sections, leaving wide swaths of pith attached to the delicious fruit segments. Because I was spoiled by a mother who liberated each individual piece of grapefruit from that spongy white stuff (although still not as carefully as I would have liked) I found this to be an ordeal. I wouldn’t eat the pith, but it was impossible to get the fruit free of it without it putting my fingers in my mouth. I would have passed the grapefruit half up altogether except Nana would have remarked on this, and in fact she still remarked on me not eating enough of it, even when I had really tried very hard. I wonder how Amanda handled it—she was younger than I was, and a pickier eater, but is today a person who peels a grapefruit and, leaving a thick coat of pith all over it, consumes the whole white globe.
After that Nana would serve us either: chicken fricassee; “baby” lamb chops she cooked in the toaster oven; or what we knew as Nana’s Spaghetti. Sides were either a salad of iceberg lettuce dressed with Wishbone Italian dressing or green beans that had turned soft and gray from being boiled. The chicken fricassee had loose, pimply skin, scant meat, and made you run almost immediately to the toilet. The lamb chops were eaten down to the nub, although I still don’t know why she cooked them in the toaster. Nana’s Spaghetti was coated with margarine, Velveeta, and some kind of canned sweet tomato sauce that was just this side of ketchup, all melted and mixed together until it formed a granular paste.
There had to be other main courses, but I don’t remember them. I remember that for lunch she would make us a toaster oven pizza with a slice of ham crisped on top. For holidays she cooked chicken soup with matzoh balls and refused to sit down, even though my mother, whose own mother died young, would call her Ma and insist on it. Nana called the matzoh balls kneidlach, and they were very light, like little clouds. Later I described them as being excellent to her daughter, whose recipe I use (or used to use) to make my own holiday soup, and she said, “Mine are better.” My mother also thought that Nana’s cooking left something to be desired. At home Mom cooked our vegetables so they retained their shape and color. Mom didn’t think much of iceberg lettuce, she bought us fresh fruit, instead of canned, and she replaced margarine in Nana’s spaghetti with butter and the Velveeta with cheddar. And when I was older, I should say, I hated staying at Nana’s house. It was too quiet, there was nothing to do, and I missed my parents. So I can’t tell you if Nana’s food was delicious or not. I can’t say, either, that I chose to love Nana’s food just because I loved Nana. But it’s true that I do still love almost all the things I loved when Nana cooked them for me.