The summer after I graduated from college was one of those turning points in your life that was really hard at the time, but that you long to return to years later, after only mostly the good memories live on under the warm Instagram filter of nostalgia.
It was 1998. My mom had moved out and it was just my dad and I living in the same house, something we hadn’t ever done. My teenage years with my dad were pretty rocky, with my mother acting as a go between in an attempt to keep the peace and save her sanity. But with no one between us, and both of us “grown ups” of a sort, we were forced to rebuild our relationship. We were both working early mornings until late evenings, and most nights I came home to an empty house.
Growing up, it was mostly my mother who made our meals. When my dad cooked, it was messy and extravagant and wonderful. Thanks to that, my cooking style ended up being somewhere in the middle of “Gotta get dinner on the table” and “I find joy in cooking beautiful food.” It also meant that when it was just my father and I at home, despite the stacks of Food and Wine magazines, we mostly ate frozen pizzas from Schwan’s, where he was driving a delivery truck. We were busy and tired and didn’t have a lot of energy to cook the way we both liked to eat. I barely knew how to cook. I mean, I knew conceptually how to cook, I just hadn’t done a lot of it.
While I ate my near-nightly pizzas, I would flip through Food and Wine and listen to the radio. I hadn’t really paid much attention to the magazine before, but started to realize that the recipes within its pages weren’t at all complicated. In fact, I could probably make most of them. So that’s what I started doing.
I learned which flavors went well together and which didn’t, and why. I made, and tasted, risotto for the first time. I got frustrated at the grocery store because it was impossible to find apple cider, which I needed for barbecue sauce, in July. I filled my neighborhood with the scent of rosemary from foil packets of potatoes on charcoal. I was skeptical then delighted to find truth in the tip of pairing pinot grigio with tomato-sauced dishes. I explored and discovered and tasted.
During this, my radio soundtrack every night was WXPN. I lived close enough to Philadelphia to get their radio stations, and WXPN is the public station out of the University of Pennsylvania. I laughed through wacky kids’ music on Kids Corner. I learned that I liked Lyle Lovett. I started really loving blues. I explored and discovered and listened.
I’ve never found a radio station since that has been as inspiring and comforting. No one else seems to understand me the way that WXPN does. Until this morning, when I heard WUNC Music. WUNC is our station of choice at home, because my husband loves Marketplace and I love Prairie Home Companion. Even our son has said in the morning, “Can we turn on the NPR news?” They don’t have a lot of shows that feature music, but I’ve always liked it when they do. So to now have access (albeit not yet on my radio dial) to a mix of new-to-me local bands and old favorites makes me excited and sad and nostalgic and happy all at once.
Which is a hell of a way to feel at 9am.