Knowing that I love Japanese food, my boyfriend surprised me one day with a worn copy of “American Cooking in Japan,” written by Elizabeth Patterson in 1952. He found it at a local used bookstore. The book’s binding is disintegrating, its pages tissue-thin and yellowed from age.
The foreword explains that the book was intended to serve as a tool for Americans residing in U.S. occupation houses in Japan after World War II. “Borne out of simple motives of self-defense and convenience,” Patterson writes, American housewives were supposed to use the book to teach their Japanese kitchen help how to prepare typical American meals. It was a way to help homesick families cope with being stationed so far away. As I read through the recipes, it occurred to me that many of the dishes in Patterson’s book resemble foods my father would make for me as he coped with being a single parent.
Similar to the audience of Patterson’s book, my father served in WWII, but was stationed in France, not Japan, and even stormed the beaches of Normandy during D-Day. I was born long after his return home, when he was 60. He passed away decades ago, when I was at an age more intent on watching MTV than paying attention to his descriptions of what war was like for him. I regret that now — my disinterest in his experiences; my lack of effort in understanding his struggles.
For the last seven years of his life, my father raised me as a single parent. Even before that, he always shouldered the daily responsibility of parenting me — he retired by the time I turned 5, and my mother worked. Memories of meals with him are few and fading now, as fragile as the pages of Patterson’s book. What was it like to be a senior citizen responsible for my snack packs? How much of how he fed me was shaped as a result of his time in service?
I recall one time after my mother left and I was missing her, I asked my father if he could cook some trout like she used to do. My mother is Filipino, and after my parents divorced…