Of all the memories I have of my grandparents (on my mom’s side — my dad’s dad died before my parents even got married, and my dad’s mom was a crappy grandmother to us because she hated our mom) one of my favorites was that they would take each of us out for a birthday meal. I’m assuming that they did this for my siblings and cousins, because they did it for me many times. If they didn’t do it for you, dear sis & bro & cousins #1 & #2, DON’T BLAME ME.
One time I remember I chose the Brown Derby, but that was a disaster, because I had not yet come to the understanding that steak cooked to “well done” was going to be an awful steak. (Now, I know better and on the VERY rare occasions that I buy a decent steak, I cook it just until it no longer has the possibility of complaining about being cooked with an audible moo). So, at the Brown Derby, I sent my steak back to the kitchen. Twice. Because it still had pink-ness to the meat. And because I was young and afraid of bloody meat. Then, once it was no longer pink, it was tough. Yeah, like I said, I know better now, and can cook a steak pretty well on my own.
And so, other times, while they still existed and it was still a choice, I picked the local Howard Johnson’s restaurant, which I think was in Madison, or possibly Geneva, in Ohio. I chose that only because of their Tendersweet Clams: deep-fried strips of succulent shellfish, battered and fried to perfection. However it was that they did it, they weren’t chewy at all, as other clam preparations seemed to me. Maybe there were better ways of preparing fried clams, but I was unaware of them and I craved HoJos Tendersweet clams..
When I was in 9th grade, our family (Dad, bro & sis — mom was unable to travel due to her Meniere’s diseash, but encouraged us to go) took a roadtrip to Florida, via all the states in between there and Ohio, to visit Busch Gardens and Disney World. Along the way, we most frequently stayed at the Howard Johnson’s Inns along the way, and often dined at the attached restaurants, if they had them. I’d always order the clams, if Dad allowed it. Sometimes he insisted on something cheaper.
I don’t think I’ve had fried clams since that trip, which would have been in the mid-1970s. Due to health issues, I don’t go to restaurants much these days, and while I’m an excellent cook, I have not attempted any battered & deep-fried foods, and am not likely to try them.
I’m reminded of that old saying – “You can’t go home again.” It’s only in the last few years that I really understood what that phrase means. So many of the places of my past only exist in my memories now. The physical buildings no longer exist. I can only visit them in my mind.
Since there is only one Howard Johnson’s in existence today, and it’s in Lake George NY, I’ll likely never taste the HoJo’s Tendersweet Clams of my memories. But I can still look back and feel the love that gave them to me.