my father, robert maxwell levy, has just turned 93 and he is finally living his dream. he regrets not having the energy to do all he was planning such as setting up a blacksmith shop (he has the anvil but not the forge—yet), or producing bird houses for sale on the internet, but how many people get to complain about anything at 93 years of age! as a boy growing up in the bronx he dreamt about living off the land—i think this is now called sustainable agriculture. about 20 years ago he came closer to this vision when he bought a huge hip-roof barn and several acres of land in upstate new york and persuaded my mother to leave new york city. they lived in an airstream trailer while he reroofed the barn using affordable batches of mixed shingles he bought at an auction, placed randomly, and was photographed by the troy times record atop his roof, and described as a local artist who had created a patchwork quilt roof. it has become a scenic destination.
but then my mother grew ill and died and his younger sister ruth also became ill. so my father spent close to 10 years in pompano beach florida caring for her—his heart still in grafton. and when she died two years ago he informed us of his will to return. to keep him from driving up himself (and believe me he would have) my brother flew in from california, and rented a Penske truck. our father is the ultimate packrat and insisted on taking everything including my aunt’s medications that were long expired and other equally useless things, but it never paid to argue with him so there they now sit in the barn along with boxes of other collectibles. our dad lived with his friend bucky until bucky became ill. dad finally purchased a mobile home and with my brother’s long distant help got it installed far off the main road. his dream was to put it further into the woods, which would have afforded a magnificent view of the distant berkshires but he realized it would make it too inaccessible, especially during snow season which is long up there. he also had wanted to build his own home, but the mobile home was his compromise position and with admiration and trepidation we helped him make it happen. my brother also found a wonderful part time caretaker, shelly, who three years running is the top female winner arm wrestler of grafton (the top male is number one in the country). Shelly certainly has the strength to support my dad when he needs it and the cheerful, energetic disposition to keep him going as left to his own device he will sleep 90% of the time. my mother long suspected he had narcolepsy and i’ve teased him about only being 20 years old because the rest of his years have passed in slumber. all this will partially serve to explain why i dedicated 10 days end of june/beginning of july to bring my father to hope and cook and bake myself silly for him, as i haven’t had the opportunity to do this for many years other than occasional visits to pompano. we drove up to grafton from hope to fetch him, staying overnight at the lovely grafton inn run my elsie and ken—my dad’s friends. mostly it was a pleasure to have the luxury of this time alone with my father, hemming his trousers, sharing stories, and sometimes being extremely irritated at the slowness of his pace. this sounds unsympathetic but you have to realize that my father has always moved at a snail’s pace as if he had an endless eternity in which to accomplish his goals and it looks like he was close to right. but watching him eat peas in the pod, one pea at a time, almost drove me over the edge. i suppose it was perfect medicine for me—always behind—always running, sometimes tripping in the street—never able to waste a second in relaxation. now i was forced to slow down a little. actually a lot. dad gained at least a pound a day which is fine. he has low cholesterol and will lose the weight quickly as he complains bitterly about the quality of the senior citizen meals and asked me for tips on cooking which he does do on occasion. it was hard to make our favorite things and not eat myself but the effort balanced the weight gain so i was behind only 2 pounds which i have since lost. we drove him back to grafton the day after the fourth of july with a whole challah sliced and ready to pop into his freezer. grafton was about to celebrate its 200th anniversary so i knew dad would be busy enjoying all the events and not be too home sick. before leaving we had lunch in troy at his favorite chinese restaurant “plum blossom.” a local retarded man did all the lovely wood carvings. on the way back to grafton we stopped to photograph the fantastic eagle wood carving which stands in front of the grafton town hall. before leaving, we made a visit to the beautiful and impressive peace pagoda. Dad rested in the garden while we visited the chapel and peace pagoda itself. and on the way back to hope we talked about retiring to grafton. i just wish it were a little closer right now so i wouldn’t have to pack so many daddy meals into such a short time! i’m already planning for next june. HERE IS A LIST OF THE FOOD HIGHLIGHTS: Cocktails and wine gin and tonic with loads of lime several excellent pinots including an 05 Taz from santa barbara (my dad still prefers manichevitz—i should have gotten some—though i don’t) a fabulous 2002 whitehall lane reserve cabernet a sinksy 06 rose Dinners lamb chops from the local farm, beets, with currant bulgur and garlic scapes goose butts on the grill with candied red cabbage and wheat berries aged ribeye steak and yorkshire popovers, grilled vidalia onion halves roast duck on the grill with bing cherry sauce and kasha varnishka pork belly on the grill with bean soup made with veal bones (i told dad it’s a winter dish but he just HAD to taste it—and then pronounced it the perfect meal for men working all day in the fields!) grilled lamb ribs, grilled string beans, and potatoes lyonnaise Lunch french ham for sandwiches on the beer and multigrain breads grilled pepperoni pizza Bread beer bread multi grain bagels & challah Breakfast bagels pancakes goose breast bacon & basted country eggs Dessert banana cake with caramel ice cream and fresh peaches cherry pie with pâte sucrée crust (his request) golden almond cake white velvet cupcakes with strawberry mousseline cherry vanilla ice cream cones at the “bistrot” down the road. (did you know that bistrot in russian means quick, as in fast food?) a french neighbor in ny told me that after WWII, when the russians came to paris, and ate at the small restaurants they were always saying “bistrot bistrot” and that is how the bistrot got its name! i bet i’m in the only one in hope/belvedere going to the stand that knows what the new russian owners really meant by naming it as they did! (no longer!)