8/02/2006

the basic cause, source, or origin of something

My Uncle Harold was my grandma's oldest child. She adored him. That and the fact that he was more of an intellectual than anyone else in the family put him out of step with his twin sisters (my mother and my aunt). He could be incredibly sarcastic and spoke with a kind of nasal whine that would have made him very hip in New York. He liked astronomy, philosophy, and chess, and he had a little 24 hour restaurant called Cherryland Cafe in Hayward, California.

Uncle Harold worked the graveyard shift, which catered to the workers at the Hunts ketchup factory across the street. My grandma and I would walk there on summer nights, cut in through the parking lot to the backdoor, and Harold would whisk us up something. He always had a pot of chili going, made a decent burger, and sometimes I would get those flattened out crispy prawns.

He was a multi-tasker in that in addition to his short-order duties, he also had a game of chess going at the counter. It turns out that Cherryland was an East Bay institution for late night chess. He had a whole crew of regulars who would spar with him and each other over the board. One article that I found about the cafe on the web says that "when Harold triumphs, the defeat can be very embarrassing for his opponent, since he usually is cooking and serving customers as he moves."

I missed all that because at first I was too young and later began a quest to find things more remarkable than my family. Uncle Harold taught me how to play chess when I was about 6, but I never got into the game. I still have the set he gave me: big, clunky weighted pieces that mean business. So I have that, a fondness for diners of all kinds, and a feeling that I missed out on something way cooler than I ever suspected.

3 comments:

Autumn Renn said...

Debora, I feel like crying. You mentioned in an earlier blog that "those who know you" know you love food. I've known you five years, but now realize I have been poor at getting to continually knowing what a wonderful person you are. I, too, have a passion for food and I also subscribe to Cooks Illustrated and own the Best Recipe book. To entertain is one of my favorite passtimes, if only I had more money to do so. Who is Maurice? Can you offer any good recipes?- and I'll offer mine. Please, let us talk more often, so I can be included in your "Those who know me" list.

SF Mom of One said...

Hi Autumn, I know her and love her. :)

And I love this entry about your uncle, Deb. I think what you got is a great inheritance.

Deb St-Claire said...

Autumn - You mean in all of those conversations we've had we haven't talked about food? Oh my! Just another thing we have in common. We have some catching up to do. Thanks so much for being so kind. I miss our talks--and you!
SFMOM - You make me feel so lucky! Thanks.