My Dinners With Irwin
Irwin Sattinger died on September 5, 2022, two days after his 96th birthday. Irwin was my stepdad in every way, but for the fact that he and Rochelle, my mom, never married. (I’m not messing with legalities or details here; for all purposes, he was my dad.)
My mom and Irwin lucked out. They found love and lived that love for many years. They understood, better than anyone I have ever known, how to accommodate one another. (Truth be told, Irwin knew how to attend to Rochelle and her flights of fancy. Best example? She sells her downtown San Diego condo within a year of her passing. Wants to buy and decorate a houseboat? My negativity practicality got chastised – how will Irwin get on the boat, with bad knees and hips? A Hoyer lift. – until Irwin’s son Stephen spoke up. No boat, and not a peep from Irwin about this damn fool idea.)
Irwin Sattinger became a man very near the end of World War II. Frank D. Roosevelt sent him a message and he showed up, never having slept outside the West LA home where he and his sister grew up as the children of a West LA grocer. He showed up!
Irwin had lots of stories, most of them about his military service. I have known no one well for whom military service mattered more than Irwin Sattinger. It made him! (For a real appreciation of Irwin’s wartime stories, watch Martin Pham’s interview with Irwin, completed when Irwin was 91.)
I am writing to talk not about Irwin in the broader perspective; instead, I want to share My Dinners with Irwin. (Film folks will understand the link.)
In February 2016, my mom suffered a health setback. Health care people told her diet mattered. She told me. I stepped up with Sunday dinners. A grilled piece of a dead animal, something green, and what my mom, decades earlier, called “starch.” Very plain. Low sodium. Low fat. Minimal seasonings.
Irwin was happy to get dinner every Sunday, with no need to fret about Rochelle exerting herself. Rochelle? After a single digit number of Sundays – call it later April, generously, if we started in late February – I heard, “You know, some variety might be nice.” Right-0 … not! I do regret not sharing a homemade pizza in 2016, but I took the professional advice about diet seriously. You want pizza, lady? Any night but Sunday.
Rochelle passed early on Saturday, October 22, hours after the end of a surprise b-day party for the LOML. The first weekend through the end of the week was a blur. Family. Stress. Trying not to eff up any client matters. Blah, Blah!
Sunday, October 30 arrived. Irwin needed a drink and dinner, and so did I. I showed up. Cow. Some sort of tater product. Apple pie from AJ’s. No green stuff. Vodka for Irwin, with olives; gin for me, with no fillers to take up space.
More than 150 post-Rochelle Sunday dinners followed. I know I missed two in 2017 for a trip to England, three in 2018 for a trip to England and Ireland, and a few in 2019 for trips to Maui, Connecticut, and Rochester. All told, if there were 170 opportunities, we missed 10.
For the first few years Max, my who knows what who is most likely a Schnoodle, joined me. I taught him to piddle outside before we came through the garage. Keeping the door between the house and the garage locked, to keep Reille from opening the door. Trash to the curb. Water bottles into the fridge.
My tasks annoyed Max endelessly. His concern? Glomming onto any remaining kibbles from the dog food bowl. Once we got past that attempt, I had to dispense with cocktails and a snack. Grey Goose on the rocks for the man, and a gin martini for me. Shrimp or some cheese and crackers. More effort, to make sure Max didn’t help himself to the snack.
Then, turning on the grill and the oven. The grill for cooked cow: a filet, a sirloin strip, or some ground beef. And in the oven? Tater tots. (Meat for Irwin; tots for me, with maybe some bread or a few veggies.)
It and all, but for apple pie for dessert. As noted, we started with AJ’s. Soon, I discovered pie from Sprouts. Damn near half the price, and better.
This ritual continued for years. On one or two occasions a nephew was in town and cooked. Everything tasted better.
At a point in time I started leaving Max at home, and used Uber. Safety, on account of alcohol.
On a few occasions we went to the neighborhood bar aka Trident. The variation was more about variety than not wanting to cook, etc.
Irwin and I got through much in those three-plus years. He lost the love of his life and a son … which is not supposed to happen. He served as a touchstone for my mess of an internal life, providing wisdom balanced with love, always. (Words cannot describe the bond, despite the fact that it forms the basis for this post.)
We stopped in early 2020, when Irwin moved into assisted living. We did meals there for a few weeks, until the lockdown hit, but the food was marginal and the magic was lost!
(As an aside, the move to assisted living coincided with a Rochester visit to see my daughter and son-in-law. LB and Miss Jane, my former spouse, jointly accompanied Irwin to his first assisted living social event. Blessed I am to share and have shared my life with two fine women.)
Assisted living in the time of COVID served no one well. Irwin and I lost the intense connection we’d had. Soon before he passed, though, LB stopped by and assured him that I was not ignoring him, that I had driven from the East Coast safely (to avoid flying with COVID), that I was healthy, and that I was not present because I was still waiting for a negative COVID test. He passed soon after and his son, daughter, daughter-in-law, and others assured us that LB’s presence represented a directive that he was duty free. He could sign off and sign out.
Godspeed, old friend. You were more than a substitute father. You were a best friend, and a part of my life that will always matter greatly!