bill mcnulty

Bill McNulty, the author's father, in mid-stride on a run during the 1970s. (McNulty family photo)

When people talk about food memories, I used to think it was all about the food, like the perfect crunch that made you fall in love with fried chicken or some blissful dessert that set your first sweet tooth.

But the more time I spend with these memories, the more of them I make, the more I appreciate how they're about where we were in life, who was with us and how the pleasure and the presence of food anchors that through inevitable change.

These food memories give us a taste of what was, whether we actively seek to re-create them or just stumble across them mid-meal. Then along comes a holiday, and with it the annual flood of such recollections. The next one up is Father’s Day.

As holiday food goes, Father’s Day gets pretty short shrift. Mother’s Day is practically synonymous with brunch. Father’s Day is more about neckties and maybe a steak.

To me, though, Father’s Day will always bring up strongly fixed food memories.

My dad was no foodie — far from it. He was not that fancy or finicky, and he didn’t come up with any of the privilege to set picky standards.


Bill McNulty, the writer's father, at his 70th birthday party. 

But in his time, the man embodied a lust for life and a gusto that I first learned from him through food. It was in his devotion to his favorite doughnut shop — which of course became my favorite doughnut shop — because it was a local, family-owned shop, and thus was worth bypassing multiple chain brands to visit.

allies doughnuts

Allie's Donuts in North Kingstown, R.I. was a favorite for Bill McNulty, and thus for his son Ian McNulty. (Staff photo by Ian McNulty, | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

It was the way hosting dinner at home or going out for a meal was about the people around the table and the festive spell that Dad could spin there.

It was about getting seconds, because when it was good it was worth it, and you didn’t know when you’d have it that good again.

In my family, my dad used food to mark the moment. That made memories. And these days, that means they remain right there within reach — at the next meal, the next round, the next moment of quiet gratitude for what we carry with us.

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