Remembering my father with a recipe for Vegetarian Philly Cheesesteak

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This piece was written by my sister, Sue Holliday, for her blog, Memory Smoothie: random memoir-type stories she is writing for her two sons.

I’ve been thinking about my dad as his birthday approaches, and thought there could be no better tribute than this one, which she wrote three years ago; my dad would have been 93 this year. In addition to being a testament to the love he had for my mother, this letter provides an interesting look a day in the life of a U.S. sailor as he waited to be released from duty after World War II.

It wasn’t easy to relate this to food! My dad was not a cook, but he was comfortable in the kitchen. Every Saturday night was my mother’s “night off” from cooking and he would make dinner. It was almost always hot dogs or steak sandwiches – occasionally chicken pot pies, all meals we kids really looked forward to!

There’s no trick to making hot dogs, and the chicken pot pies were always frozen, not homemade (who even heard of such a thing in the 1950s and 1960s?) So I offer an interesting recipe for a vegetarian version of a Philly cheesesteak as a good way to honor my father’s memory, both because of our steak sandwich dinners and because he was born and bred in Philadelphia and lived there until his mid-50s. It’s quite tasty, and if you can find original Philadelphia Amoroso’s hoagie rolls, it’ll be almost as good as the meat version.

My father, Harold Naidoff, would’ve been 90 years old today, January 11.

When he moved into a new house after he remarried in 1998, he sent a box of old photos to me to be shared among his children. Several of the albums had belonged to my mother before she married, but others are from his early married life and our childhoods, plus some from trips my parents had taken together. Many of the old photos on this blog are from that box.

Stashed among the photo albums were two files of the letters he had written my mother when he was in the Navy, serving as a coppersmith on a repair ship during, and after, World War II. My mother appears to have kept them all, in chronological order.

I hadn’t read any before now.

Some may think that sharing these letters with family and friends betrays my father’s trust. I like to think that he would not be embarrassed by his feelings for his wife expressed in the letters. And while he could have tossed them as he did so much other stuff when he moved, I think he included the letters with the photos because he wanted them to survive.

A letter from China in 1946

Here is one, transcribed from my father’s hand.

[Aboard the U.S.S. Kermit Roosevelt]

Tsingtao, China

12 Jan. 1946

My Dearest Darling Wife,

I love you; the first thought of you that is always in my mind. I love you; a phrase that has become the theme of my life.

Today was wonderful, tiring, joyous, irritating, and beautiful. How can it be all these at one time; well I shall try to explain.

The morning began as usual, and then a wonderful thing came to pass; the ship received about 50 bags of mail, all packages. The entire morning was devoid of work, and devoted entirely to opening boxes, fondling the contents, nibbling on candy and cake, and having a great time indeed. I received 3 packages from home, 2 of yours, and one from Mom, and everything arrived in very good shape. Now our cupboard is full again. With our own packages, and those of the fellows who have already left, the food locker is again crammed full with various delicacies, and we shall be eating supper in the shop until it is exhausted. You had perfect timing on your birthday gift box, it arrived only a day late, excellent considering the situation. Not only for its contents, but for the way it was presented made it even more enjoyable. Thank you my Dearest. The brushes are very good and I have already used the hair brush. The clothes brush will find plenty of service, but I am afraid the hand brush will be a little neglected. Do you mind very much? The bottle of brandy, most heartily appreciated, will be saved until I learn that I am definitely on draft for home, then it will [be] consumed with a happy heart; the right mood for a good liquor.

The morning passed easily and happy, but then it began. No sooner had work begun in the afternoon when it all began. Dan is sick with a cold and took the afternoon off, on the Q.T. of course, and I took over his job. Then some Marines came in for a rush order for some stovepipe and I had to get them started on that job. I made them do their own work or else they would not get it. They worked. Then George came over and told me to come right over to the Jason so I could pick up my Jap rifle, so I dropped my work, and off I went. Rushed right back, and tried to regain lost ground. First over to the Marines who were having a little difficulty, then back to my own work. One of my strikers was given a job of painting the bulkheads and bitching like hell, making things miserable for me. Then more work to be done in a hurry, and by the time the afternoon was half over I was thouroughly irritated and disgusted. Was I glad when it came time to knock off work. I was never so glad to see a day end, and was more tired than I have been for a long time. One thing I did accomplish was to check my gun at the armory and get one of the carpenters to make me a box so I can mail it home. Guns can now be mailed, so it will save me the task of carrying it. The gun is in poor condition, but that can be remedied when I have it home.

I lay down for awhile and had just fallen asleep when Dan woke me for supper down in the shop. Our meal consisted of delicious fried eggs, bread and butter, coffee, and canned cherries for dessert. Not bad for the shop. Now I have just come from the shower, and I am much relaxed and at ease as I write to my sweetheart.

Tomorrow is holiday routine and early liberty. I am going ashore to take pictures. That fellow Hirsh had a package and among its contents was a camera with 16 rolls of film. Before he left, he gave us permission to open his boxes and only return items of value. Dan was appointed custodian by Hirsh before he left. The camera shall be returned, but we are going to use up the film, and send a letter of explanation to Hirsh.

I hope it is a nice day as it will probably be my last liberty.

Now the day is almost at an end, and whatever difficulties there may have been, it certainly was a most beautiful day, full of memories and love.

Your husband,


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  1. Carolyn says

    Hi Bobbie,
    I enjoyed reading your dad’s letter. I have many written between my dad and his twin brother,as well as between him and his first cousins – all in the army, stationed all over the world during WWII.There are even letters to and from my grandparents. (Dad was stationed in the South Pacific.) We even still have his lieutenant dress uniform. Our Saturday night dinners on Disston St.also meant Mom didn’t have much to do in the way of cooking. There were always corned beef on rye sandwiches with Gulden’s brown mustard, pickles and coleslaw from a deli on Bustleton Ave., and pan grilled or steamed knockwurst on bakery buns and homemade potato salad. I spent many a Saturday afternoon helping my mom chop the celery, bell pepper, grating carrots, and peeling and dicing the boiled potatoes and the hard-boiled egg before she added the mayo-mustard-spices dressing. (Of course, now when I make it, I leave the potato skins on.)
    I enjoyed the nostalgia of your piece.The fellow I dated in college used to love to take us to Tyson Grill for steak sandwiches after a Saturday night outing to the Orleans or bowling, or out with friends.They were wonderful sandwiches. Love your vegetarian take on a Philly standard. Have a happy, healthy 2015. I’ll be thinking of you as I replace my dead disposal 🙂

    • Bobbie Lewis says

      Thanks Carolyn! Good memories. I think it was a Jewish “thing” to eat deli or something similar on Saturday nights. And our new disposal is working great!

  2. Carolyn says

    P.S. My parents, William and Lucy Siegel z”l were married on this date, January 5, in 1947, 68 years ago.

  3. altan says

    I am humbled by the realization of how little I saw the adults in our lives back then… much knowledge and wisdom could have been gleaned; and how truly disrespectful a child I was. And I flinch at kids today, here in Humboldt… dysfunctional………

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