Memories of my father

Stephen Leacock
Stephen Leacock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the things about my father that always impressed me was his ability to pick out good restaurants. He would look around, sniff a few times, take a look at the menu and make a decision. I don’t ever remember having a bad meal when we ate together.

We lived in Manhattan and though we ate out quite a lot on Sunday nights it was always at the same few restaurants. One of them was Tony’s Italian Kitchen on West 79th street. It was owned by the chef and the maitre d’, I learned later, and according to my father this was one of the secrets of its success. In any case, they had one of the best antipastos I have ever eaten in any Italian restaurant. It had marinated peppers, mushrooms, olives, Italian salami and provolone and much more. I was floored when, after coming to Boston, I order antipasto and was served what was basically a large salad.

It was on a summer trip through England and France, however, when this ability came to the fore. We were in Paris and were walking around Montmartre when supper time rolled around. As we strolled down the hill, my father pointed La Mere Catherine. “Let’s try that one,” he suggested. I never did find out why he picked
it. I had coq au vin for supper. It is now many, many years later and I still remember the meal. It was one of the best I have ever had. I later looked the restaurant up in the famous Guide Michelin and discovered that it had one star, which is a big deal. The thing is, though, that my father picked it out without consulting the guide book.

Later that same trip I stumbled across what I remember as one of my first experiences of culture shock. We were in a restaurant in the French countryside ordering lunch, in French, which we all spoke. I was ordering a croque monsieur, a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. The conversation, which for convenience I’ll render mostly in English, went something like this:

“And what kind of cheese would you like?” the waitress asked.

“Fromage Suisse” (Swiss cheese) I replied.

“And what kind of Swiss cheese?” she responded.

I was floored. I never knew there was more than one. Ever on the ball, however, I came back with “what kinds do you have?”

They had emmental and gruyere. I picked gruyere, mostly because it sounded familiar.
In case you ever face this dilemma, however, I’ll add that our imported Swiss cheese is in fact emmental. Gruyere is more like domestic Swiss.

Though I never figured out all of how my father did it, I did learn at least one of his secrets one day when I met him for dinner. He had spent the day at the courthouse in lower Manhattan, so we decided to go to Chinatown for dinner. We were standing in line at the place he picked out when I asked rather plaintively, “why not that place over there? There’s no line.”

Exactly,” he replied.

Dinner was delicious.

Stephen Leacock was my father's favorite writer. I never read any of his work while my father was alive, but after he died, I did. He's a hoot, and eminently quotable.

"Writing is no trouble: you just jot down ideas as they occur to you. The jotting is simplicity itself - it is the occurring which is difficult."
Stephen Leacock

Here is the beginning of Dad's favorite story:

It was a wild and stormy night on the West Coast of
Scotland. This, however, is immaterial to the present
story, as the scene is not laid in the West of Scotland.
For the matter of that the weather was just as bad on
the East coast of Ireland.
--Stephen Butler Leacock (1869—1944)
Canadian humorist.
Opening lines of "Gertrude the Governess; Or
Simple Seventeen" in _Nonsense Novels_ [1911].

Margaret Fieland is the author of "Relocated," recently released by MuseItUp Publishing and of the companion book of poems , "Sand in the Desert," or She is one of six Poetic Museling. Their poetry anthology, "Lifelines," was released by Inkspotter Publications last November She is presently at work on two more novels set in the universe of "Relocated." You may visit her website, or You can find her on Twitter as @madcapmaggie and on Facebook as madcapmaggie.
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Alexis Morgan said...

I enjoyed the stories about your father--and the quotes!

Magdalena Ball said...

Very moving memoir Peggy - thanks for sharing it with us.

Karen Cioffi said...

What wonderful memories, Margaret. Your description of the antipasto made me hungry. :) There is great Italian food in NYC.

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

A touching recollection, Margaret. Thanks for sharing.

Margaret Fieland said...

Karen, I still miss that antipasto.

Kathleen Moulton said...

I so enjoyed reading this, Margaret!

Thank-you for an enjoyable few minutes this morning.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

I do so love first person essays. This one on your father is truly evocative, Margaret.


Anne Duguid Knol said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anne Duguid Knol said...

I must preview before I post! Thanks for the memory, Margaret--brought the moment to life so clearly, I felt I was watching you both in that place and time.
And I loved the quotes--must look for that story...

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