Whenever I make a sandwich on rye bread, I think of my father-in-law, Bernie. Why rye? Because one of my husband’s nicest growing-up memories is of he and his dad stopping at the bakery to pick up the loaf of fresh-baked rye bread that his mom had asked for — and then managing to eat most of it before getting home. I love that story. I loved Bernie too.
Bernie was an absolute gentleman. And a gentle man. Courtly, thoughtful, kind, understated — but with a wickedly wry sense of humor. (Look at that — rye and wry.) I lost my own dad early in my life, and Bernie became a dad-in-law in every sense of the word.
In fact, Bernie and I were allies. My husband and his mom are both very charismatic; very animated; and very not shy about giving an opinion, talking over each other, and being center stage. It’s all adorable — until it goes on for about 20 minutes. And that’s when having an ally to roll eyes with is kind of cool.
There’s more. Neither Bernie nor I ate seafood. Except we both loved tuna on rye (there’s that rye thing again). Take us to a deli and what would we both order? Corned beef on rye. And don’t forget the Dr. Brown’s (cel-ray for him, cream for me).
Unfortunately, I only knew Bernie for a few years before he passed, although it felt like I’d always known him. There is a bittersweet moment with him that I’ll never forget. I hadn’t seen him for a couple of months, and he was in a nursing home, somewhat frail and no longer aware of many things. But that didn’t stop him. Gentleman that he was, he managed to stand up from his wheelchair to greet me with a huge hug. I’ve never been more flattered in my life.
You’ve got to love a man who loves to act like a kid — by sharing a rye bread with his own kid and bringing home just a few remaining slices as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Or who wears a football helmet around the house for no reason. Or who waggles his eyebrows at his own wife in romantic playfulness.
That’s the kind of man I’d share a sandwich — and my heart with — any time. Like father, like son.
© 2013 Claudia Grossman