Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Old Days

When I was small, giants roamed the Earth.

My parents' generation lived through a World War and were deeply affected by its misery. They smoked and drank and smoked some more. During his childhood, my father and his friends took up smoking to stave off hunger-pangs from lack of food. They lived in a war-zone with bombs falling daily.

Then the war ended. My dad immigrated to this country, got a foothold as a barber, met a girl, got a better job as a cop, and built a life. The 1950's and prosperity arrived. My parents had two young boys, a house in the bucolic suburbs, and hope for the future. They built a bar in their unfinished basement where they entertained their friends on weekends. When I was six years old, I'd sneak out of bed and peer down the stairs to watch adults get soused with rising joviality.

Many times my dad would say he was amazed that people in America could eat meat every day. Growing up in Germany, meat was so expensive families could only afford it once a week. Meals including meat were a rare luxury. Now, here, hamburgers were as common as bread.

My parents' favorite restaurant was Cliff's Elbow Room. Cliff was a popular name back in the 1950's and "elbow room" was an expression for comfort. Cliff's Elbow Room was half-bar and half-restaurant. They served a dish my parents spoke of with wonder. "They serve..." my mother whispered with hushed delight, "... marinated steak!" Half a century ago, our family  travelled over an hour by car on gravelly roads to arrive at Cliff's for marinated steaks. The trip was always a big deal. I remember wood-paneled walls, unpretentious wooden chairs and, of course, the tangy flavor of the marinated steaks.

This week, my brother's wife and kids were visiting Long Island. Out of nostalgia and in tribute, we went to the Elbow Room. And, of course, had the marinated steak. Believe it or not, on the first bite, I instantly recognized its distinctive flavor. I haven't eaten that dish in fifty years but recognized its taste. Our sense-memories have lasting power.

I almost cried when I saw the 1950's-style sign hanging from pipes in front of the restaurant. I vividly remember that sign from our family's visits of so long ago. Memories flooded back to me from a time when giants roamed the Earth.


(That's my dad in the white shirt in the first photo.)


  1. Wonderfully evocative post Ally and I adore the photo of your dad, I'd happily hang that on my wall ❤

  2. Sweet. Isn't it something when flavors and even smells bring back memories. Great pics.

  3. Smell and taste are the strongest link to memories.

    I'm still amazed at how much of our food doesn't include vegetables. I think one of the reasons for my Asian and Indian food love affair tends to be the generous use of vegetables with less focus on meat and potatoes. Which of course you can order to suit American appetites, but I find a lot more fresh veg in those places.

  4. Lovely post sweet friend ... It is amazing how certain tastes can bring back such amazing memories.

    Love the photo!!!

  5. What a touching story . it is hard to imagine what our parents endured if we are of a certain age. My parents endured the depression, and we, too, had the requisite basement in the bucolic burbs.
    I am thrilled for you that you had a tangible something to lead you back to that time and place.
    Fabulous photo, so nostalgic!
    xx, Elle

  6. How nice it was still there!
    I'm sure we appreciated things more because they were more rare.
    I wonder how my kids will go. Xo Jazzy Jack

  7. Evocative, moving, beautifully written post, Ally. I felt like I wanted to keep reading for many chapters more. Should you ever pen a memoir, I will be queuing up for a copy the day it comes to market.

    ♥ Jessica

  8. i'm so glad you were able to recreate that memory after all of that time. there was a soda shop in my hometown that served the best burgers that i ate frequently as a child. it was next door to my grandmother's beauty shop and miss that place so.

  9. Beautifully written Ally.
    I could almost hear your mother's voice whispering...
    I really appreciate your sense of respect and remembrance for your parents.
    I have to say that I could understand why you'd cry, that last paragraph made my eyes water.