We usually don’t do posts that are this personal, but we decided to do one this year.
This has always been a tough weekend for us. Our father, Harry Brass, died 38 years ago on September 10. This was the weekend we had to take him to the hospital for the last time. He died eating chocolate ice cream and watching the Red Sox win. His battle with colon cancer was not as bad as we had feared. He died at the New England Medical Center where he had been Director of Pharmacy for 23 years. He died at 70, too young, but he left us a great moral legacy.
Sheila and I both left our jobs in 1975 to spend time with him when he became ill, and we had a great two years. We started a communications business and an antiques business. Because his father, our grandfather, who had been an artist in Russia, was into salvage (read, ran his own junk shop) in Chelsea, Massachusetts, Daddy worked in the trade as a young boy. He was involved in our antiques business, and we think it really made the last two years of his life enjoyable. Sheila and I were feeding ourselves on $5.00 a week, and we discovered the joys of macaroni salad and omelets made with cold cut and cheese ends, 50 cents a pound at Johnnie’s Foodmaster. We never told Daddy about our circumstances because we didn’t want to worry him.
Among the memories we treasure are those of our father rubbing citronella on our bed posts on hot summer nights in Winthrop, were we grew up. He always shined everyone’s shoes and lined them up in the kitchen for school the next day.
When I was job-hunting with a new Master’s Degree in English, I called Daddy , sobbing, from a telephone booth. I had shown up for an interview, and the man who was supposed to interview me refused to see me because I was a woman. Daddy found his number, called him, Harry Truman-like, and gave that fellow a piece of his mind. I got the interview. Although I didn’t get the job, the experience reinforced my father’s opinion that women were entitled to job equality, and Daddy knew that there was no one like his daughters.
Daddy’s job history was fascinating. His first job was at the age of six when he packed ice cream cones in a factory for six cents a day. He shared his wages with his younger brother, Barney, and his mother. He was hired at the age of 13 as a bellboy at the Boston City Club where he was asked to press General Pershing’s trousers when the General made an appearance in Boston.
Daddy was acknowledged as one of the top three graduates of the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. He lost his eyesight briefly when working his way through college. He supported his mother until the day he died one year before she did.
A hospital pharmacist for more than 50 years, he helped make Quinidine injectable to treat heart disease during World War II. He transferred his pharmacy skills to our home kitchen were he made ice cream from a mix called “10 Below,” during the 1940s, and the best fudge on earth (we still have the pan he used.)
We remember the episode of the moss green cake that looked a bit strange, but tasted great. We were experimenting with food coloring.
There were the Sunday breakfasts with fried lox, buckwheat pancakes or waffles made on the waffle maker that had been a wedding gift. In later years, he made a comforting beef stew from my recipe. It was so good that we re-named it Daddy and Marilynn’s Beef Stew.
Sometimes, I think I see my father walking in front of me on the street after all these years, and it saddens me just for moment when it turns out to be someone else. Recent losses are painful and can be devastating, but I’m learning that time can take the rough edges off grief, and we go on.
Our new cookbook, Baking With The Brass Sisters is dedicated to our father, Harry Brass, and to our Honorary Father, Daniel “Dad” Carey.