What’s in a Name?
A tradition like no other
By Jim Moriarty
When the eldest of the grandprincesses was a wee thing, saying “grandpa” was something of a challenge. What came out, to the everlasting delight of my wife, the War Department, was a word that sounded a lot like “crappy.” This prompted a dispiritingly large number of family members to engage in an inter-generational cabal for reasons that don’t need to be discussed in polite company. Let’s just say that the War Department did everything in her power to encourage the widespread use of the term and thus, from that moment on, whenever I’m in the presence of the grandprincesses — there are two now and one will be driving a car before long — my name is Crappy. That’s with a “y,” not an “ie.” The latter is a fish, for God’s sake.
It can be awkward. For a school assignment, one of the grandprincesses had to write a letter which she dutifully addressed: “Dear Grandma and Crappy.” Her teacher was, if not outright appalled, nonplussed. She attempted to correct my granddaughter, who quite calmly informed her, “That’s what we call him.”
“You call your grandfather Crappy?” the teacher asked.
“Well,” the grandprincess paused to mull the whole thing over, “sometimes I just call him Craps.”
July would ordinarily be the month our family gathers in a beach rental with not enough bathrooms and too many wasps to eat ribs, play goofy golf and pay homage to our expanding list of family traditions. Unfortunately, the current circumstances make it impossible this summer. One of the traditions we’ll miss is the card game Spite and Malice. It was introduced to me by my grandmother, a bridge grandmaster who taught that far more complicated game to guests in fancy resorts like the Belleview Biltmore in Florida and the Carolina Hotel in Pinehurst. Once she tried to teach one of my brothers to play bridge. He made an opening bid. She said, no, you should say xyz because you have this, this, this and this in your hand, correctly identifying nearly every card he was holding. My brother looked at her as if she was possessed by the devil, put his cards down on the table and never came back.
Playing cards with my grandmother was strictly a cash proposition. In the case of Spite and Malice, the stake was a handful of pennies. Grandmother taught the game to me. My mother taught the game to my children. I’ve passed it on to the grandprincesses. It’s a ruthless game whose finest redeeming feature is that it’s almost entirely serendipitous, meaning even the rankest beginner can slam dunk the rest of the table like Michael Jordan soaring over Moses Malone. It can be seriously good for a 5-year-old’s psyche. So can learning how to behave if you’re the dunkee, not the dunker.
However, the tradition that I, personally, will miss the most comes in the kitchen. I’m not well known for my culinary gifts. On those rare occasions when I’m called upon at home to cook something on the back deck, once the deed is done the War Department usually encircles the gas grill with crime scene tape. But, like the blind pig, there is one particular item for which I am justly, and I don’t mind saying, universally renowned — Crappy French toast.
Ah, the sheer cherubic joy of those tender young faces when, on our first full day of our beach rental, I begin morning reveille by rattling pots and pans. I can almost hear the Pavlovian groans now. The ritualistic breaking of the eggs, retaining just the right amount of jagged pieces of shell. The glup-glup of out-of-date milk. The whiff of vanilla and a whisking vigorous enough to give a man the forearms of a slugging third baseman.
The signature feature of Crappy French toast is how it manages to retain such significant amounts of what appear to be flaps of egg white. I confess that over the years I’ve seen some large enough that, if two pieces were to be placed one upon the other, the short stack could have stayed airborne at Kitty Hawk at least as long as the Wright Brothers.
Crappy French toast should not, under any circumstances, be served al dente. This was pointed out to me one July by my son-in-law, whose first piece arguably should have spent a bit more time on the griddle; either that or it could have been used to culture flu vaccine.
In the fullness of time, the grandprincesses have convinced me that Crappy French toast is really nothing more than a vehicle for powdered sugar. Tradition, edible or not, is always rich. PS
Jim Moriarty is the senior editor of PineStraw and can be reached at email@example.com.