“Inferior people talk about others, average people talk about things, superior people talk about ideas.” -Dr. Robert Monaco
I don’t think that I’m alone in that I never met my paternal grandfather. I have a lot of friends who, growing up had just a few or even one grandparent, and I had three, plus my maternal great-grandfather, so I was doing pretty OK as far as grandparents are concerned. That being said, when I was very young — maybe four or five — I was obsessed with knowing everything there was to know about my grandfather.
In retrospect, I think I must have scared my dad a bit with these requests. I didn’t want to know what he was like when my dad was little; those questions came later. But my mother had already had two more children and may have even been pregnant with a third, so I knew that there was a certain amount of time when there was a baby coming before the baby had actually arrived. And I slowly figured out that my grandfather had been alive during that time. He knew about me.
This is the part where I probably scared my dad.
I used to wake up crying, and when one of my parents came in, I would tell them I missed my grandfather, the one that I had never met. I distinctly remember waking up in the middle of the night to see an older man sitting on the edge of my bed, though I concede that it was likely a dream. And just once, when I was ten, someone called the house and I answered, and then man said he was my grandfather; it wasn’t the voice of my mother’s father, and I hung up immediately. For hours after, I wished I had stayed on the line. I still don’t know who it was.
I don’t know what any of this means, nor have I ever really tried to decipher it. After the age of ten, that connection to my grandfather disappeared, and I no longer felt this need to know more about the time where our lives almost crossed paths.
But I did want to know more about the man he was. I draw stories out of my father as best I can, whenever it seems natural, whenever it seems as though he may have something to say. Sometimes he doesn’t want to talk about his father, which I understand. In some stories, my grandfather seems more like a character than a person, a doctor raising four children, a genius who couldn’t understand why no one else was.
He was precise. One of my favorite stories comes from when he first met my uncle by marriage. He was driving, peering through a small window of clarity in an otherwise fogged up windshield. My uncle, attempting to be helpful, wiped the condensation from the inside of the car. My father was terrified, but my grandfather, though he was likely fuming inside, said nothing.
My father has a few triad sayings inherited from his father. One is that you spend a third of your life asleep, so get a good mattress, and a third of your life working, so do something you love. I can never remember if the third part is about finding someone to spend the third part with or doing something you enjoy, so I try to do both.
The second is my favorite. “Inferior people talk about others, average people talk about things, superior people talk about ideas.” I’ve been hearing it for so long that I’ve never questioned it, never really even thought about it except to put it into practice. Talk about ideas. Talk about where you’ve been and where you’re going. Talk about books and art and music. Talk about things you question and things you don’t quite understand.
I’m still sorry I never met my grandfather, but I suppose I can feel lucky that he left behind a strong enough legacy for me to have some idea, however small, of the man he was.
Spinach Risotto with Confit Tomatoes
1 pound cherry tomatoes
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. orange juice
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. olive oil
salt and black pepper, to taste
3/4 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup frozen, chopped spinach, thawed
2-3 cups chicken broth or water, warmed
1 Tbsp. prepared pesto
1 Tbsp. butter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Halve the cherry tomatoes and toss them the the olive oil, orange juice and salt. Place in a glass baking dish and roast while you prepare the risotto.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a saucepan. Finely mince the shallot and add to the olive oil. Season with a bit of salt. Sauté until slightly golden, about 4-5 minutes.
Add the arborio rice and cook until translucent, 1-2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with white wine. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until all of the liquid is absorbed. Add the frozen spinach. Cook until the liquid is absorbed.
Add the chicken broth or water by the half-cupful, stirring until all of the liquid is absorbed before adding more. Continue for approximately 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender but still al dente and the risotto is thick but slightly soupy.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the pesto and butter. Serve in deep soup plates topped with the roasted cherry tomatoes.