Glide has several buildings in the Tenderloin, and while I primarily work at one (the Family, Youth and Childcare Center), I often have occasion to visit the others, especially the “main” building at 330 Ellis.
This building is the home of most of our programs, including the free meals program, which serves 1,095 free meals a year, which just happens to equal (365×3).
The fog and condensation of San Francisco around this time of year (or really, any time of year) often creates a moist and damp atmosphere that certainly pervades the main building. After all, the door is always open there (it’s not just a metaphor). The environment, the very texture of the air is almost exactly akin to so many rainy or almost-rainy days in Oregon.
And thus, it just takes the right ingredients during an active or nearly-active meal downstairs in the basement, with all the hot air set to rise, to transport me to a kitchen in the suburbs of Portland, circa the late ’80s and early ’90s. Bacon, especially, helps. And maybe just a hint of cigarettes.
I have been a devout vegetarian for over a decade, but there’s something about the smell of bacon that I will never stop loving. That something is precisely this association. My mother’s mother lived in her bathrobe in the kitchen for a vast portion of the days that I would spend with those grandparents in Oregon. A chain smoker, she would chew on straws between the multiple packs a day. This probably doesn’t seem like a flattering image, but I adored my grandmother, and would make a special effort to be the first one awake every morning when my parents and I stayed at the house. She was always up before my grandfather, and I was always up before my parents. Early morning was our time, in the kitchen. And she would cook bacon and chew on straws and we would talk about politics and our day and play dominos and I would promise her up and down that yes, I would go to college and no, I would never smoke a single cigarette.
Tomorrow will be forty years exactly since the death of my father’s mother. Those of you handy with math can tell that this indicates that we missed each other on this planet by more than 12 years. And as much as I loved my grandmother who I shared nearly two decades of time with, the one I missed would have been my favorite. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of someone who would understand me better than she.
So I can only imagine. But for now, today, on the steps of the main building, they can share. Why not? And I’ll pause, take in a full breath of poisonous smoke and murderous bacon, and smile. This is home. This is a moment, a portal to worlds of youth and before I was born.
Grandmothers, I kept my promises.