Friday, October 15, 2010
The Bagel Man
I have a black and white photograph, entitled, "The Bagel Man," hanging in my kitchen. It's a picture taken in Israel 30 years ago of a rotund man about 60 years old wearing a wrinkled, greyed apron. He is standing in a doorway and all around him are bagels -- on countertops, hanging from a rope above the doorway, in a basket on his arm. His expression is one of acceptance. Every time I look at it I am reminded of my father. Today is the one year anniversary of my father's death.
Every Sunday my father would get up early and go to the bagel place -- that's what we called it, the bagel place. It was actually much more than that. It was a full fledged Jewish delicatessen, one that only existed in Queens (NYC) and now only in my memory. It had acres of display cases filled with smoked fish, roasted turkeys and chickens, corned beef, tongue, cheeses, pickled herring in cream sauce with onions, pickled cows feet, sour pickles, chopped liver, stuffed cabbage, kasha varnishkes, cheese cake with cherries on top, chocolate and cinnamon babka, Entemanns donuts, marbled and chocolate covered halva, and a curtain of salamis hanging from the ceiling.
My father bought bagels (plain and salted), lox, cream cheese, one white fish, and a babka or donuts or halva. When he got home, my mother would lay out a display of all his bounty on the dining room table. It was Jewish, still life, performance art. And we all knew our roles - to eat with gusto, share the New York Times and randomly comment out loud on what we were reading (I nabbed the magazine section), and all this while watching football or tennis or baseball in the background.
The eating was part of the art and we each had our own genres. I sliced a bagel in half and pulled out the doughy interior to make more room for piling on different ingredients: first a healthy slather of cream cheese; then a very thinly sliced onion and an even more thinly sliced tomato; finally I draped two strips of lox over the top. It is the most delicious thing I have ever eaten.
Today is one year since my father died. It feels at most 5 months. You were my nourisher Dad. Thank you for your wonderful generosity and presence. I miss you.