When I was a teenager living in the Midwest, I ate dried squid in the winter. My mom would roast the ojinguh in our fireplace while cups of Swiss Miss hot cocoa grew cold waiting on a coffee table close by. Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus sat on our mantel above the fireplace where she took the dried squid flesh out of the flames and pulled off long, ragged strips resembling pale-yellow beef jerky. My parents, my sister, and me huddled together on the floor next to the fireplace, leaving the couch lonely. We eagerly gnawed on these strips, our teeth working hard on the tough texture to get to the chewy bursts of sweet and salty.
It was on the coldest nights of our midwestern winters when my mom would ask my dad to get a fire going with ojinguh on her mind. He obliged, putting aside whatever he was doing, the same way he almost responded to her requests. Squatting in front of our white-washed brick fireplace with the fire screen wide open, he placed new logs on the log pile and shifted the old ones around with a poker.
The smell of wood and ash mixed with an inescapable scent of burnt sealife took over the entire lower level of our home on nights like those. I love remembering those nights and the way my family of upbringing shared food. It wasn’t just the sharing of food I treasured. It was the language of love my mom spoke effortlessly, knitting our multi-cultural, bi-racial family together.
When my mom held a large squid in the fireplace, her eyes lit up with dancing flames. I could almost see the seaside vendors in her simultaneously-happy-yet-ever-lamenting eyes. They reflected the fire of hunger she held close no matter how the time, distance and understanding between then and now stretched. The same fire fueled her everyday desire to make sure my dad, sister and I were always more than full. It was this fire in her that packed my dad carefully-curated lunches every day for as long as I can remember. No one told her she was supposed to be a Proverbs 31 wife. She did it, because she knew what it was like to have nothing but the hope of a few seconds of warmth from someone else’s fire, and only the scent of what roasted over it to feed her empty stomach and aching heart.
Read the rest of this post over at SheLoves Magazine.