Herbed Avocado Spread and Harold, the Neighborhood Hitchcock Double

I have a very weird history with the avocado.  It extends back to being a child, though I don’t think I ever actually ate an avocado and subsequently learned to love its flavor, until I was well into my thirties.

I originally made this spread as the crowning ingredient to a Sunday afternoon grilled chicken, Swiss and bacon burger. Since then, I have gone back to it over and over again, incorporating it into one new meal after another: BLT’s, salads, tuna and sausage paninis. It’s a thick creamy spread with abundant chunks of avocado and a nice kick from the white wine vinegar and Kosher salt. Best of all, it’s got a slim ingredient list and takes all of about five minutes to put together.

Herbed Avocado Spread from Chow.com

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 4 tablespoons minced fresh chives
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 pinches Kosher salt
  • black pepper to taste

Dice or mash the avocados in a non-reactive bowl.  Add chives, parsley, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper.  Fold together until well combined.

My first memories of avocados are tied to some interesting visuals, including an Alfred Hitchcock doppelganger, a framed photo of a black and white cat that wasn’t mine, and two inadvertently bloodied inner thighs.

Two doors down from the house where I grew up lived the girl I was planning to marry, Chandra. I was six and had my own Big Wheel.  Chandra was five and occasionally still wet her pants. Her hair was brown and shorter than mine.  We possibly looked like brother and sister.  Chandra didn’t live with her parents or any siblings.  She lived in a weathered green house with only with her grandfather, Harold

Harold was the oldest person I knew at the time who was not related to me. I place him at least sixty years older than I was, maybe seventy. He was not in good health. He was easily seventy-five pounds overweight and carried it all in his belly, which was twice as wide as any other part of him. His triple chins, balding head and eternally blank expression led to producers over the years approaching him to play Alfred Hitchcock in assorted Hollywood projects. He even had a way of speaking which was similar to The Master of Suspense: thick, deliberate, and interrupted by the occasional need to stop and wheeze.

I spent many hours at Harold’s with Chandra. Except for a guest bedroom, every room in his house connected in a circle, starting with a living room which led to the hallway. A left in the hallway would take you to a door that led to Harold’s bedroom, with another door on the far side opening out to the kitchen, which in turn led to a family room, and back around to the living room. This layout made for an irresistible racetrack for Chandra and myself until we would inevitably knock something over, and Harold would demand we sit down on his orange sofa and calm ourselves while he went and made us sliced peaches in milk. It might sound odd that an old man I wasn’t related to would let me run around in his bedroom, but Harold either had nothing to hide or realized he was simply too old and tired to stop us from doing pretty much anything we wanted.

Harold had a cat named Blackie.  Where some cats might drape themselves over their human’s shoulder, front paws down one side and back ones down the other, Harold was so large in all ways imaginable that Blackie could actually sit properly on Harold’s shoulder and be comfortable. Blackie would jump onto a tall post on the front porch and wait for Harold to bend forward, and then climb aboard.  Then Harold would place his hand over his eyes and look one way to the next.  “Where’s Blackie?  Oh, where has that cat gone?” he’d ask.  Chandra would giggle uncontrollably at her grandfather when he did this.  I marveled at a man so large and unfortunately shaped, with a voice so thick and coated with age, going out of his way to entertain us.

After Blackie died, Harold framed a black and white photo of him and set it on top of the television in his bedroom. As I’d run through, chasing after Chandra, I remember catching sight of the picture and acknowledging that it was the only thing that was ever added to that stuffy stale bedroom.

In the center of Harold’s back yard stood an epic avocado tree, so imperious it made its owner look like a garden gnome. My own family’s backyard was eaten up by a swimming pool shaped like a cartoon whale and surrounded by concrete.  We had next to no room from even the smallest shrubs, so this avocado tree was as enchanting to me as anything in a novel of fantasy: thick angular branches that reached up and disappeared into pools of green leaves so dense they blocked out the sun.  Climbing up into those branches as we regularly did, Chandra and I were surrounded in every direction by giant flowering green grenades that seem to have been frozen in the air.

Needless to say, Harold was constantly providing free avocados to everyone in the neighborhood.  Each nearby household would regularly receive a large brown paper bag crowded full of them.  Harold insisted I take these bags home to my family after playing with Chandra so often that I began to resent it.  I felt something like a pack mule.

One afternoon, Chandra brought me into Harold’s back yard and showed me a large wooden plank she had found and leaned up against one of the branches in the tree.  She inched her way up the tree to where the top of the plank rested, threw her legs over the side and cheerily slid back to the ground.  It looked like fun so I climbed up right away to take my turn.  The critical difference was that I was wearing shorts, Chandra wasn’t.  The moment I began my descent, I realized the size of my miscalculation, or rather felt it, as the raw sides of the plank tore open the skin on the insides of my thighs.  They were instantly pink and bloody, riddled with wooden shards plus dirt from where I had collapsed at the base of the tree, crying in agony.   After several minutes, Harold came out to collect me in his arms and carry me home.  I cried fearfully for my life the entire way.  Harold wheezed.

My tears continued as Harold set me down on our own family couch so my mother could begin the process of numbing the insides of my legs with ice so she could fish out all the splinters with a needle.  She thanked Harold for bringing me home.  “You’re welcome,” Harold said, “These are for you,” and he handed my mother a large heavy bag with a Ralphs logo on the side.  I felt betrayed.  What I saw as a life and death situation I may not survive, Harold saw as an opportunity to unload some more avocados.

Within a year of this incident, Chandra told me very plainly she was going to New Jersey to live with her father and his other two children.  Though it was over thirty years ago, I still know for certain in the whole time I knew Chandra, she never once mentioned that she even had a father.  Within several weeks, she was gone, and it suddenly seemed very odd to spend time at Harold’s house.  Though I had always enjoyed watching him play with Blackie, watch him make us peaches in milk in the kitchen, and most especially climb in his avocado tree, I wasn’t Harold’s family, and I was no longer his granddaughter’s playmate.  At six, I felt now like an intruder.

I might catch Harold in his front yard from time to time, taking care of his tomato plants. I’d ask if he had heard from Chandra.  Sometimes he would mention he had gotten a letter from her, but mostly he would just remind me that she was living with her father now in New Jersey, as if somehow I’d forgotten it had happened.

Eventually, Harold’s daughter, Sylvia moved in with Harold.  She looked like an adult version of Chandra, minus the playfulness.  She drove a van, wore round glasses that covered most of her face and suede jackets with an excessive amount of fringe.  She had friends over who rode motorcycles.  She put her name on the mailbox under Harold’s. Hers ran two or three times the length of his because she had more last names.  Eventually, I would never see Harold in the front yard.  One day, his name was no longer on the mailbox.  I knocked on the door and Sylvia told me, “Harold is not here anymore.  He’s in a home now.”  I didn’t know the difference between “home” and “a home,” so I asked Sylvia what it meant. “Someone takes care of him now,” she said.  “He has a room and he can watch television all he wants.”  That was the last time I had any interaction with anyone who ever lived inside that house.

To this day, I do not have any hair on the insides of my thighs.  It’s very striking.  When people see my legs, they usually comment on it.  I have hair on every other part of my legs, but not on the inside of my thighs. I don’t know if it was the painful slide out of the avocado tree that caused it, but I like to use it as the reason, just so I can tell the story of Harold and keep his memory alive for myself.   I enjoy this memory, even though I can’t ever lose the image of a very large Harold in a very tiny room, with a television, unfamiliar blankets and a framed picture of a black and white cat.  I hope it was better for him than that.  You really can’t tell about these things when you’re six.

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4 thoughts on “Herbed Avocado Spread and Harold, the Neighborhood Hitchcock Double

  • January 17, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    What a beautiful story Gary. I love the way you write. I almost forgot about the avocado spread, which sounds great by the way. I have images of Harold, the cat, the house and Chandra. I wonder what ever happened to her. I’m trying not to have images of your unfortunate thighs. Hee hee.

  • January 19, 2011 at 7:36 am

    Love your story Gary. I grew up in a small town in the south and never heard of an avocado until I ventured out into the real world. Avocados are so good for you and I try to incorporate them into my meal planning. I’m kicking myself in the head for not thinking of making a spread for sandwiches with them. Thanks for a terrific idea.

  • January 30, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    @Penny – thanks for the comment. The memory of sliding down that wooden plank will be with me until the day I die.

    @Carolina – Please make this spread, or your own version of it. It goes well with just about everything.

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