Have you ever tasted something, or smelled something, that just brought you up short? Stopped you dead in your tracks? Recently the hotel shampoo reminded me so much of my nana I started to cry in the shower. It smelled like her bathroom. She used a soap called Camay or Cameo, and whatever the ingredient in the complimentary Molton Brown product, it had me back in my nana’s house. Man, I miss my nana. She had eight grandsons and me, her oldest grandchild. My mom always tells me that my grandmother became a different person when I was born, softer, nicer. I do not remember her ever saying a harsh word to me. Not that she wasn’t brutally honest. I was crushed when in a gorgeous boutique on Cape Cod she told me that the sweater dress I had tried on made my “rear end look enormous.” She was right, but wow. I loved that dress!
I spent a ton of time with her; we were very simpatico. We went to the theater many times, as she had season’s tickets and unreliable friends. I remember renting “The Last Emperor” and watching it with her on a rainy Sunday. I visited her for lunch a lot. She always made celery sticks stuffed with pimento cheese, a little hors d’oeuvre before the main course of liverwurst on rye sandwiches and root beer. Sometimes we would substitute real beer. “Just a mouthful,” she would say, and recount how she and my grandfather would go to Jacob Wirth’s in Boston for liverwurst sandwiches and a glass of beer when they were first dating.
When my nana was first lost to me, dementia brought on by a bad case of the flu, I desperately wanted her back. I felt like time was of the essence. When an appeal to her caregivers to try anti-depressants or other pharmacological means failed, I was determined to somehow flip her memory switch back on. I went to the deli near her house, bought Mother Goose Liverwurst (her favorite brand; we parted company here as I am partial to Kahn’s braunschweiger), Kasanof’s marble rye, and IBC root beer. She was happy to have company, and seemed happy to see me in particular. I made the sandwiches and sat down to eat. She took one bite, spit it out and grimaced, “What is this? Oh, it’s awful!” Liverwurst would not be her madeleine.
Even if my Proustian experiment didn’t work for nana, a liverwurst sandwich—as rare as it is for me–puts me at my nana’s little kitchen table, and I hear, smell, taste and feel the love and the loss.