My parents didn’t understand rhubarb, found artichokes incomprehensible. To my mother, every squash was yet another deplorable form of pumpkin; for my father, the world needed only to keep providing him with potato after potato. Having endured starvation of many flavors, you could say they had earned such preferences. Kartoffel, my father said, or didn’t say, having renounced that language upon arrival in America. My mother served him three meals a day, including the sandwiches he brought to work, until she died. Before that, the kitchen smelled of livers, onions, and of course potatoes. Schmaltz was reliable but margarine and vegetable oil were crucial to the laws of kashrut. Butter or milk meant an interminable three hour wait after flesh for dinner. I’m certain this is why I preferred tuna melts or even frozen fish sticks: the happy chance for ice cream immediately following the meal. Thou shalt not drown a calf in its mother’s milk, one prohibition that actually made sense to me. If the meat knife accidentally touched some cheese the knife had to be buried in the dirt for three days. You could say that such reasoning was bizarre but stabbing a potted plant with a piece of cutlery made my mother feel religious. Do you think I’m making this up? To this day I half-admire her not-so-secret vice of smoking one Dunhill cigarette a month, even though I never saw her inhale. It was something she pretended to know how to do, like applying mascara. At one point, uselessly, I tried to teach her. Meanwhile, the inherited garden surrendered itself to weeds without our interference. Uneaten green and yellow pumpkins retreated to the far corners of the yard. Forgotten spoons adorned the topsoil. I think there were fruit trees. A pear, perhaps? No, an apple. My mother has been dead for ten years and I can’t remember her voice, but a baked apple can almost bring me to my knees. These days my father eats soup from a can, insisting it tastes fine. Occasionally he relies on the kindness of strangers for complete meals, though of course they aren’t strangers but friends he and my mother cultivated together for 50 years. That was the garden they knew how to tend, the one filled with European accents more or less like their own, and a shared love of off-color jokes. What color? How should I know. Ochre? Cobalt blue? While we’re at it, do potatoes taste different when you call them kartoffel? I’m the only person I know who has never once tasted a cheeseburger. Not drowning the calf, remember? It’s like singing on Friday nights, a concept of which I approve but only when it’s not obligatory. My sister sends her children to religious school. Instead of dirt, she buys new forks. I could go on like this forever. Her daughter’s bat mitzvah culminates in a party on roller skates. When my father lets me guide him onto the floor at the rink, his death grip on my arm is unmistakable. On his face I see an expression caught somewhere between exhilaration and terror. He doesn’t even know the name of the song, but this is still America, and he says he wants to learn how to dance.