In memory of the life, love and wit of Carol Versandi
Dining with Carol Part 3
April 7, 2014
Shortly before she died, my mother became a brunch aficionado.
Which was strange because for years, she was so anti-brunch, you would have thought she had suffered an Eggs Benedict related trauma as a child.
In all honesty, I had never seen someone who so vehemently against a particular meal then my mother and her decades long grudge match with brunch.
But for whatever reason, about 8 or 9 months before she passed away, her and brunch made amends and tried to live together harmoniously.
If you've read either Part 1 or Part 2 of the Dining with Carol series here on this blog, then you know that my mother was not into upscale, fancy or lavish meals.
A baloney sandwich would be a perfect example of a standard Carol culinary staple. Pimento loaf, what with all it's add ons and additions, would be considered "extravagant".
So the fact that my mom suddenly developed an interest in brunch, a meal that usually consists of a wide selection of sliced meats, gourmet cheeses, diverse pasta entrees and fresh fish, seemed a little counterproductive.
She was my mother, she wanted to go to brunch, so that's what we did.
The last time we went, it was myself, my mom and my wife, Amanda.
We met up at Windows on the Lake in Ronkonkoma (see above picture).
A nice time was had by all, but more importantly, I learned two things
about my mom that day.
The first, was that my mother was hilariously inappropriate when it came to describing other people. Specifically their nationality, race and/or physical apprearence.
The second was that she would not suffer disloyalty or tolerate betrayal of any kind.
Chapter 1: The Chinese Man.
After we were seated by the hostess, my mom started to look around to see what was being offered that day. She eyed the carving station, the build-your-own omlette bar, the selection of fresh fruits and vegetables and the dessert tables.
She then noticed a man walking around with a plate of food.
I have no idea what was on it, because quite honestly, I didn't even see the man she was referring to.
"Mikey", she said. "What do you think is on that man's plate?"
"What man?", I asked.
"That man over there. With the blue shirt", she replied.
I looked up. I looked over. I looked around.
But I did not see anyone wearing a blue shirt.
So I looked at my mom and said, "I don't see who you're talking about."
She stared back at me and said "The Chinese man".
And at the same time she said it….she did it.
She did that thing you're not supposed to do when you are talking about an Asian person. That thing where you use the tips of your fingers to stretch the outside corners of your eyes. …yea, that thing.
The thing you're probably thinking about doing right now…but shouldn't be.
Shame on you.
And she wasn't quick or discreet about it.
It's not like she said "The Chinese man" and did "that thing" surreptitiously so nobody would see.
No no, she said "The Chinese man" and stretched her eyes and held it there long after she stopped talking. She looked back and forth between Amanda and myself, in that pose, almost as if trying to make us understand what she meant when she said "Chinese".
It was her way of saying "Have you seen this man?"
She was one coolie hat and fu manchu mustache away from being a World War II Bug Bunny cartoon.
Amanda and I just stared blankly at each other.
Mouths wide open.
In complete stunned silence.
Finally I think I was able to eek out a whispered "Stop that".
My mom (who knew she was being inappropriate) said, with an almost childlike innocence, "What? What's wrong?"
"Don't give me that 'what' nonsense!
I can't believe you just made that face.", I chastised.
"You said you didn't know who I was talking about when I said the Chinese man.
So I thought that would help. Do you see him now?"
I looked up. I looked over. I looked around and the I looked back at my mom
….and she was making that face again!!!!
"Stop that this instant!", I implored in hushed tones and through gritted teeth.
"Do you have any idea how offensive that is?"
"Offensive? To who?", she asked. Again with a false air of innocence.
"To the Chinese man in the blue shirt!", I answered.
"But you said you didn't see him. So he's probably not even here anymore. So he won't get offended. So stop being so gay", she replied.
And with that she got up and went to fix herself a plate of food.
Leaving me in a hazy fog. Wondering if that conversation actually
just happened or if I imagined the whole thing.
Chapter 2: Treason.
For the longest time my mom and my wife shared a "culinary bond".
Neither one of them were particularly adventurous when it came to eating. I
n fact, for years, both of their palates were restricted to chicken fingers, individually wrapped cheese slices and Tic Tacs.
We once had to walk out of a seafood restaurant, after we had been seated and served drinks, because neither one of them could find anything on the menu to eat.
But over time, Amanda became more and more courageous.
Eventually developing a taste for things like lobster and sushi and other such extravagant fare. Whereas my mom, never got past hot dogs and tuna fish
from a can.
True story -one summer afternoon, I grilled some tuna steaks for us. My thought was, if she loves tuna from a can so much, she'll really like it when it's fresh and done right.
- Not so much.
When I set the plate down in front of her, she actually jumped up and quickly backed away from the table. She held her nose with one hand and with the other she began to make that "go away" motion all while saying "Feh…Feh!!"
If she were Catholic, I'm sure she would have held up a crucifix for protection.
Not only would she not eat any of the tuna, but she wouldn't touch the side of steamed broccoli because it had shared the plate. In the end, I think we wound up getting some pizza.
So anyway, while we were having brunch on that lazy Sunday afternoon, Amanda got up, browsed around for a little bit and came back with a bowl of Seafood Newburg.
For those that don't know, Seafood Newburg is a warm stew traditionally made with scallops, shrimp, lobster meat and fish and is served with toasted bread.
My mother looked at Amanda's plate and scowled.
She then looked up at Amanda and scowled.
Then finally over to me.
I could see immediately that Amanda better batten down the hatches
cos a storm was a' brewin'!
My mom sat there.
Silently judging Amanda.
Getting fidgety and angrier by the second.
Amanda on the other hand, had no idea that anything was wrong.
She had no way of knowing, that inside, my mom was a typhoon of misplaced contempt and resentment.
We ate in relative peace and genuinely had a really nice time.
But I could tell that I had not heard the end of this.
Not by a long shot.
And I was right.
The next morning, while I was on my way to work, I got a phone call. It was my mom. And I knew before I even picked up the phone, where this conversation was headed.
"He…", but before I could even managed the word "Hello", my mom cut me off.
"You know Michael (she only called me Michael when she was upset) I want you to tell Amanda that I am very disappointed in her. I can not believe that she ate that fish stew thing. I thought her and I were companions. Comrades. Partners. Amigos. She knows I don't eat that stuff. When did she become so hoity toity? Oh-look-at-me, I'm Amanda. I eat Seafood Newburg. La-De-Da-Da. She knows that we only eat regular food. How could she abandon me like this?"
"I honestly don't kno…", I tried to say, but was again, cut off.
"She's supposed to have my back. But there she was…eating fish and crab cakes! Since when does she eat crab cakes? So now what? I'm the only person eating like a regular person? How does that look? You and Amanda eating crab claws and monkey faces and I'm eating bread sticks. You tell your wife that we need to have a serious sit down conversation about all this. It's just not right."
"I think that maybe you're overreacting a bit", I said nervously.
"You can eat whatever you want. If you want shark's feet served in a pigs head slathered with horse butter, that's fine. That's you. But Amanda isn't allowed to eat this stuff and she knows it. She doesn't actually like scallops. She's just eating it to be different. Either that or to trick me into eating it. But I'm not falling for it. You tell her to cut it out."
"Cut it out?", I asked.
"Yes. Tell her to cut it out."
"Cut out eating?"
"You want me to tell my wife to cut out eating?"
"Ok, I will tell Amanda that next time we go out to brunch, she can't eat."
"Good. Unless it's chicken. Or salad. She can have salad. If she wants, she can have eggs. But that's it."
"Got it. Anything else you'd like to discuss today?", I inquired.
"No. That'll do", she said. "Tell Amanda she's a good girl", she added.
And she hung up. Leaving me in a hazy fog. Wondering if that conversation actually just happened or if I imagined the whole thing.
But it did happen and the truth is, she wasn't really mad.
She just liked peppering my day with a little madness.
And I miss that about her.
I miss the absurdity of the situations that I found myself in because of her.
She knew what she was doing and she knew that deep down I enjoyed it as well.
My mom and I shared a lot of "big" moments, weddings, holidays, vacations….but it's the little ones…these seemingly inconsequential snippets of time, that I miss the most. It's in these little moments that I find the best of who my mom was. It's where her spirit actually lives. It's where my heart will always be.