StoryCorps: Remembering the flavor of home
About a century ago, thousands of immigrants coming to America from the Far East made their first stop at Angel Island. The way station for newcomers was known as the Ellis Island of the West. Today, we’re going to take you to New York – to Ellis Island itself – where Larry Rand immigrated with his family from Germany when he was a little boy. Adjusting to life in a new country wasn’t easy, and Larry’s antics made matters worse: he was a troublemaker who was expelled from school – and that’s not counting the time he stole his parents’ car. But Larry connected with his parents over something that lasted a lifetime: a deep love for food. So, when he took his father to the grocer as a grownup, it was more than just a family trip – it was a walk down memory lane.
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LARRY RAND: My relationship with food could be a whole separate StoryCorps on many, many levels. To understand what food means to me on one level is hard to actually explain because it’s very visceral, and it’s one of the things that makes me inexplicably happy and fulfills me in a way that … it’s just really hard to explain. But to understand where that kind of a reaction comes from is to go back and realize that one of the most important memories I have of my father as a child growing up before he kind of withdrew, I remember his love of food.
I remember being a four-year-old, six-year-old, whatever, in my parents’ store, which they called a store but was more of a rotisserie restaurant in Germany. And I remember how much he loved meat, and just the finer, gourmet side of meats – meat curing and brining. And he had a meat locker in the back of the restaurant – it was like a cold room, we called it, with meat hanging from it. He would take me back there and get a different cut of something, you know, so my recollection as a kid is how fascinated he was with this.
We had lived in Brooklyn for our whole time in the United States and slowly I’d been moving myself to Manhattan, and I found this gourmet grocery store called Balducci’s, which was the first one that I’d ever heard of. And I couldn’t believe my eyes, because all I’d ever seen were supermarkets in Brooklyn. It’s all he had seen. And I drove him to the city, and I said, “You have to come see this.”
And he walked in, and he was transported. We were there for hours. I hadn’t seen him alive like this, and he literally went so slowly through the produce. He picked tomatoes, and they were these huge, huge strawberries, I think – I think they called them stem berries, I’d never seen them before.
And then he went to the meat counter. And he was just transported. And he ordered this prosciutto that he had picked, and it just made everything made sense for me. Here we were, ghettoed off in Brooklyn, in this Orthodox community in Brooklyn, trying to conform and do whatever it took do well, but when it came down to it and I brought him to a place that made him feel good and made him feel like home, the first thing he did was order a pound of prosciutto, and brought that home. And we took that to Brooklyn, and was like f*** everything else. It didn’t matter. Sure, we keep a kosher home, but not today.
Larry Rand spoke with his partner Jonathan Fuchs in the San Francisco StoryCorps booth located in the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Their conversation was facilitated by Alex Lyon and edited by Louis Ramos-Ibanez. If you have a story to tell or a loved one you’d like to interview, click here to learn more about San Francisco StoryCorps.