A year or two ago, I learned that my father’s grandfather worked in the metal business. It surprised me that I’d never known, since my father is a VIP in the scrap industry – how hadn’t I know that somehow he’d carried the torch from two generations earlier.

My father’s father was a Detroit milkman, delivering glass bottles of creamy white house to house. This fall, I wrote a Cooking Light article about a milkman who delivers on Detroit’s east side.

Perhaps prompted by my kosher-keeping, I started writing about food a few years back – about how it connects us, how it conveys tradition, how it nurtures, how it can separate.

And when I launched my marketing/PR business last year, it was with the hope of promoting and building businesses in the food industry, businesses that nourish.

Yesterday, I toured a meat packing plant with Fred, the Hiller’s meat buyer.

“Her grandfather was Crown Packing,” Fred told the purveyor.

“What was his name?” he asked.

“Louis Woolman.” Followed by a nod of familiarity.

Grandpa Louie died in 1969, though his company lived on after him. I am now working for Hiller’s, a company in whose ranks so many people knew my great-grandfather, the family legend for whom I am named.  What goes around comes around.

I wonder if there is any coincidence to the way ancestry unfolds? Did my father intend to carry on where his grandfather left off? For me, it wasn’t a conscious decision to step foot into industries about which my forebears were passionate.

My great-grandfather processed pork in Detroit’s famed Eastern Market. He wasn’t a religious Jew, but old traditions die hard, and so he never brought home what he sold.

In recent months, I have stood beside sides of beef and peered into cuts ready to be made into spiral hams. I am learning the most primal of businesses, the way we feed ourselves, the way we find sustenance – but of course everything becomes primal at some point.

For some reason it amazes me when I find someone who works in a foundation industry like scrap, steel, meat or milk. Last week, I toured Calder dairy farm, learning the lives of the cows whose milk we drink.

Business goes from the very root items that we need to turn into something else to quite a complicated intellectual structure where ideas drive sales. We need the basic AND the sophisticated, both. And if I had to choose, I would go back to square one, where things are simpler and easy to understand.

The farther we get from our roots, the more difficult and convoluted life becomes. In the summer, when I pick berries at the orchard with my children, all is peaceful, all is good.

Today, I took my two little ones to the library and was reminded how simple and pure and soothing a library visit can be. Surrounded by the musty promise of stories within the hard covers of books, the inviting couches and large plate-glass windows.

Sometimes I can’t believe that I’m walking a similar path to the one my grandfathers walked. And then I am comforted by knowing that our values, our visions, our livelihoods are all tied together.

Yesterday it was cold but the white-cold sun peeked through a smattering of clouds. We all know things viscerally; sometimes we just cloud the knowledge with too much thought.

By the way, I am supremely proud of this story.


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