As I type, I am forking up bites of sweet cantaloupe showered with cracked black pepper and salt. My grandfather always ate it just this same way. When I was a kid, I was a picky eater and turned my nose up at nearly everything, melon included. He used to tease me into trying things by asking, "How do you know you don't like it if you've never tried it?"
Always silenced by a solid logical argument, I would usually cave in and take a bite of whatever it was he was offering. As luck would have it, I only remember the times I was glad that I did, like the fried clams dosed up with runny red cocktail sauce that he always ordered at Taylor's Fish House, and for which I promptly abandoned my usual fried shrimp the second I tried a bite.
As I have grown out of my picky eating, my grandfather has grown into his. At family dinners chez les grand-parents, my place was always the same: to the left of my grandfather. Though nearly all of us had a place where we faithfully sat every Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and birthday, I knew by some secret look or handshake or wink from my grandfather that mine was the best seat in the house. And as the years went on, rather than him trying to get me to try something new, I would find myself encouraging him to have just a small taste of this, a little nibble of that. I did not inherit his knack for friendly persuasion, and so he had far more success than I ever did.
Right now he is trying to adjust to a stroke he had a few weeks ago, and he doesn't seem to want to eat much of anything. As I sit here and eat, I find myself thinking about all that he has taught me to love and enjoy, and how glad I am that I listened to him all those years ago.