As much as this blog began as a way for me to chronicle my rediscovering of home through food, it has quickly evolved into a connection into my past. My parents immigrated to the United States in 1975, and soon settled down in Towson, MD. I was born just a few years later, but since both of them worked full time they quickly began their search for a babysitter. My dad stuffed fliers through the mailboxes in their apartment complex, and after a few interviews they found the perfect home.
Ruth Fitzpatrick saw the flier and instantly asked her husband Bill if he would be interested in taking care of a little baby. They were retired, with Ruth in her 60’s and Bill already into his 70’s. Bill was a proud Irish American born and raised in Baltimore, swimming in the Inner Harbor when it was “so clear you could see the bottom”, and eventually working at the docks close by. He was one of the few employed during the Great Depression, and as an avid boxing fan watched Joe Louis fight. Ruth was a former nurse with children of her own before remarrying Bill, and they lived in one of the adjacent buildings to ours. Ruth and Bill took care of me from the time I was two months old. They celebrated my first roll, watched my first steps, and loved me as their own grandson. They were my Nana and Papa.
Papa was a true blue Baltimorean. He loved horse racing, he loved the Orioles and he ate his crabcakes with french fries and cole slaw. One of my mom’s favorite stories is when my parents took him and Nana to a fancy steak restaurant, and loudly exclaimed in disgust when he was told they didn’t serve french fries with his crabcake. One place that did, and still does serve some of our favorite crabcakes was Friendly Farm Restaurant in Upperco. We would always stop by the little store to look at trinkets and sweets, we walked around the pond to see the ducks and then for dinner we would have our hush puppies, Papa would eat his beets with cottage cheese, as kids we would always order their fried chicken and then for dessert have ice cream. Friendly Farms is served family style, so we would have our own entrees but share unlimited vegetables and sides. It wasn’t until I got older that I really appreciated the combination of crabcakes with french fries and cole slaw, and now it always feels incomplete when I don’t have them all together.
I can’t ever think of Baltimore without thinking of my Nana and Papa. When I left for California they were both still here, and I remember so clearly the day I visited them to say goodbye. Papa, already suffering from significant Alzheimers suddenly stood up as we were leaving and walked confidently, quickly toward us. As if shedding the cloud of his dementia he held out his hand, and with the strength and memory of the Papa I knew as a child said simply, “Good luck Joey!” Now living and working here in Baltimore, I think of them more than ever. My heart hurts.
I miss you so much.
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