June 14, 2016

Lefse, Latkes and Legacy

Last night, I signed up to attend a GroupThink in my new home, Fargo. The topic was legacy.

In my work with heritage, culture and cooking, I often think about the legacy that has been passed down to me, mostly because it doesn’t feel like much. The recipes from my dad’s side, along with religious customs and family stories, barely survived the Holocaust. My paternal grandparents left Russia with the firm belief that Judaism was over, and they should only look forward. My dad’s tastes are still influenced by his upbringing, he eats gefilte fish out of the jar and will boil a cabbage within an inch of its life, but I can’t help but think it’s a pale shadow of what once was.

My mother’s culinary heritage went the way of many Americans, being whitewashed away, first by the canned food of the 50’s, then the terrifying “innovations” and “modern” tastes of the 70’s and finally shamed into obscurity by the working woman of the 80’s. Couple that with a family rift and I don’t have anyone to ask for generation old recipes from the Ukraine or Scotland.

I went to the conversation prepared to nibble on Lefse (thin crepe-like Norwegian potato pancakes covered in sugar and butter) and listen quietly as others shared rich histories they’d received, and the ways they planned to pass them on to the next generation.

But then Doc Mara, one of the speakers and a former English Professor at nearby NDSU and a future director for the User Experience Center at ASU, shared an interesting idea. He expressed that he didn’t see a legacy as something concrete that had been handed down to him that he would pass on, but rather as a dance.

We’d learned the steps to this dance from our parents, our friends and our community without realizing it. This was a dance we couldn’t help but continue in every encounter with the world. And he suggested that our unconscious decisions, the asides and the accidents, were more telling about this dance than any conscious life work.

Have I come to any grand conclusions? Not really. But I wonder if my dad’s desire to surround himself with family and my mom’s no-nonsense ability to cut through the B.S. and get things done are their true legacy. And if not, I can just enjoy each holiday when my dad fries up latkes and we eat them with the applesauce I made that summer.

(Photo note: My Jewish father and W.A.S.P. (hence the Christmas tree) mother sitting and watching their enormous, boisterous, ridiculous family.)

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