by Leslie A. Ito
What I Learned From My Mother
I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.
What I Learned from My Father
About a decade ago, I was part of a reading group of grantmakers called the “Thoughtful Philanthropists.” Each reading was carefully selected around the theme of empathy, philanthropy and service. One particular piece, Julia Kasdorf’s poem, What I Learned From My Mother, had a lasting impact on me. I could relate from the perspective of how family and communities support each other through challenging times. It reflected values that I was familiar with and reminded me of how I observed my mom and my grandma follow these practices. I imagined myself following in their footsteps, but at that time, I never thought of being on the receiving side of this poem.
When my father passed suddenly last Spring, we experienced the outpouring of love and comfort through food and close company. If Dad had written a life motto it would have been “Eat and drink well in the company of friends, family (and occasionally, a friendly stranger).” He learned this from his father and passed it down to all of us. Sharing a good meal and pouring a drink was the best way my Dad connected with people and so it makes sense that when he passed, we had a continuous flow of people, love and food come through the front door.
Within 12 hours and continuing for nearly three months, my parents’ small living room was filled with flowers, the warmth and love of those close to us and a constant replenishing of food, spanning the County from Donut Man in the east to Giuliano’s in the South and every space of deliciousness in between. The homemade love came in the form of posole, mac n’ cheese, baked goods, a full spread of Japanese washoku and our favorite family recipe, Blueberry Cheesecake from Cousin Denny. As the weeks continued, friends set up a Meal Train* for us, signing up for meals delivered to the house. The fridge was overflowing with an abundance of leftovers. We were further consoled not only by those that brought food but also by the visits of hungry friends who came to eat and help us clear the fridge by taking food home, all while sharing their memories. At first we had enryo about the Meal Train, but we quickly realized that preparing food was the last thing on our mind and having a meal to sustain us while we concentrated on the grieving was just what we needed. It reminded me of how grateful I was to have my family deliver meals those first few weeks after delivering my son.
Through all of this, I realize solace emanates from a full heart, mind and stomach.
We were comforted by the love of food that represented L.A. and all the places my dad loved to eat. A great follower of Huell Hauser, Evan Kleiman and Jonathan Gold, he would often send me links to Eater articles. Finding the hottest new spot to eat was one of his hobbies. In memory of my dad, I have created this list, Phil's Phaves, that captures all of the places that our loved ones brought to nourish and comfort us in our time of mourning. When you take a bite or raise your glass at one of these spots, think of Phil and the role that food plays in your life and your community.
Read: Phil's Phaves