Yiayia's Potroast for Dad

September 24th 2019

The insomnia has hit again, I am sitting in the bathtub staring at the sink faucet, the water has all drained but still I sit there observing that the sink faucet looks like a bird in flight. Baths help me relax, I woke up with a terrible anxiety dream. The scene is the house I grew up in on Village Way st. I chat with Mom who is lovely and mobile, perhaps around her era after her cooking career when she was getting her degree at Weber state. I go down to the room that I shared with my older sister back in the 90’s, when I hear a terrible noise, as I run up the stairs I notice the door is open (growing up my parents never locked the doors in our house) all the sudden I see a lady from behind with black hair she is menacing similar to the villain in “Saw” as I try to grab her from going downstairs I wake up in a panic, I never made it through to find out the root of the noise, but it was bad enough that I could feel my heart beating outside of my chest. I hadn’t stepped foot in that house in 8+ years but its still a location for my anxiety.

Dad, Mom, me 2013

Before my Dad died he had called to tell me they were selling the Village way house, they hadn’t lived there in nearly a decade and had been renting it out. When he told me this, I told him I thought it was a good idea, and that it would be a good cushion for them financially, I didn’t realize this was going to be the last time I would ever hear his voice. He sounded great, he had left the VA home after recuperating from his last bout with chronic pain issues that had left him hospitalized. I took for granted that within the week I would no longer get to have mundane phone calls with him, to be honest, I had missed a few, but our last chat was especially calming. Dad was always interested in how work was going and how I was holding up in general, but this time he seemed frantic to tell me about the house going on the market, and that he felt like I should travel the world more. It was a little different than normal, but I figured all was well, and I had, had a conversation with my sister Georgia a few weeks before about how Dad had told her he wanted her to arrange a “surprise party” for him for his 70th birthday. I remember joking with her about how it wouldn’t be much of a “surprise” if he was the one with the idea, and I am sad now that I was too caught up in my own shit to realize how excited he was to make it to 70. 

Dad at his Father's club The Golden Spike in the late 70's

He never got his party, as we sat in the super gloomy basement of the funeral home making his final arrangements, I realized this was his “surprise party”, his funeral, he missed 70 by about a month. Making funeral arrangements for someone is an odd situation to be in as a consumer, there was a fair bit of yelling, and we were told to quiet down as three services were going on upstairs. Dad didn’t preplan, Dad was particular, and I swear on my life, for three days I could hear him giving me directions on what he wanted. I could feel him taking over my thoughts. We were lucky that Dad had Veteran’s benefits that covered the cost of everything (a nice traditional, American burial is 10k plus), the funeral was beautiful, he looked as good as he could look dead (I had gone off on the lady helping us make arrangements about what color foundation to use, the mortician waited until she had my approval at the viewing before she left), the casket was shiny like all the cars he had admired in life, flowers were ample, and they gave us the entire chapel. It was grand, and the Greek Orthodox priest was amazing and explained things to everyone that  I never understood growing up, he is 5 years my junior and I was shocked that someone so young could teach me so much about a religion I had been baptized in and I will be forever grateful for his officiating and kindness. 

Uncle Sam, my grandfather Alex, Uncle Bob, and Dad

Dad had a unique blood type and was a organ and tissue donor, his organs were shot for the most part, but his tissues and corneas were not, they had explained to us because of his extensive donation, we wouldn’t be able to help dress him as they had to put him in a plastic “onesie” pajama due to his skin donation, as the sweet mother of six, funeral director nonchalantly explained this rather anatomically, I glanced at my sister Georgia mortified. At first it bothered me, but as I thought about it I realized that this was how my Dad lived his life, he would literally give himself to others in order to help, at times I felt to the detriment of the family, but really it was his way of being generous. As I adjusted his tie in his coffin, I did get a peek at the zipper of his “onesie” and I just kept telling myself he had “zipped off his human suit”, and was sitting at the table with his Dad and uncles observing the whole event in whatever new dimension he was in. Once I got to the viewing I stopped hearing his voice in my head and I felt assured that we did things exactly as he would’ve wanted them.

Dad basically planned my entire wedding LOL! So glad I got to have him walk me down the aisle, he also made all 30 lbs of Greek potato salad himself.

Grief is dismal, it feels like how Morrisey’s voice sounds, painful, heavy, but also tranquil at times. It hits like waves, sometimes I am almost manically cheerful, two minutes later I am crying over cat videos on instagram. Most everyone who matters to me reached out in some way and it was really reassuring as so much of my life has become solitary. Some folks say the weird things….I really tried to take a self evaluation of what I had been saying to people who had experienced loss, panicking that perhaps I had said the wrong thing….what I realized is that anyone who reaches out at a time like this can’t say the “wrong thing” its all about the intention, the only wrong thing is not do anything at all. I have come to grips that it is never going to “get better” it’s going to be the new “normal”. When my chest tightens and the aching in the pit of my stomach starts my brain spews weird stories and memories of my Dad that I hadn’t thought about in years.

Dad at 20 in Vietnam

 Dad had a rough childhood, I needn’t  get into too many details but he was abandoned by his biological mother when he was two, and she then passed away tragically when he was 13. He didn’t talk about it much, it was right up there with his Vietnam experience as things best kept in the closet of skeletons that we all pretended weren't there. Dad wasn’t perfect, but now that he is gone all the things that I was hurt about or irritated about with him are now just kind of endearing. He did share late in his life with me that his Maternal Grandmother was the best cook. He waxed poetic about how she would make handmade pasta and hang it on clothes hangers to dry all around her home, and how that is a memory he had of her when he would visit her apartment in Salt Lake City. For what his mother had lacked in care taking, her mother had tried to make up for anytime she saw him. He would talk about a beef dish she would make and it was the best pot roast he had and will ever eat. We never had it growing up, but I feel like it is something now I want to make to honor his memory. I am pretty sure it pales in comparison to the roast of his youth (there is no recipe to follow, but his eyes would light up when he would describe it to me) but there is something comforting in making a version of this and keeping his and his grandmother’s legacy alive through food. 

I do hope the house sells quickly and that my anxiety dreams subside, but I know I will miss him forever, and that I will never again get to serve him coffee, which he would water down, "too strong Zanny!" I would love to be “annoyed” by him now….I guess I will try to never take anything for granted.

Yiayia’s Pot roast

Beef chuck roast 2 lbs heavily salted and peppered on both sides and perimeter 

1 Tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 onion, cut into eighths 

1 cinnamon stick

1 tomato chopped

2 Tablespoons butter or olive oil

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

1 cup beef stock

2 bay leaves 

1/2 cup of dry red wine

Sear your roast in the butter or olive oil, till all sides are brown, while it browns add the onions, and granulated garlic.

In a slow cooker add stock, tomatoes, tomato paste, bay leaves, oregano, meat and onion mix. 

Cook for 3 hours or until fork tender. You can add carrots and celery if you wish, I added two ribs of celery, and two carrots after about an hour or so. Serve over pasta with grated hard cheese and browned butter.