Post #386 A Death in the Family

June 26, 2015 at 7:56 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

In my last post, I mentioned that family biz was occupying a great deal of my time and attention.  My father passed away early Tuesday morning.  He’s not been well for several years, and the situation came to a head over the weekend.  He was on the operating table and went into cardiac arrest.  They managed to resuscitate him, but my sibs and I decided that a DNR was in order.  His quality of life would have been such that he would be unhappy in the extreme if he regained consciousness at all.  He took his last breath at 1:00am Tuesday morning.  His pain was gone and his face was relaxed.  And, as my sister-in-law put it, he was finally able to join the love of his life.

Dad and I had a complicated relationship starting when I was in diapers.  I can be an angry and stubborn s.o.b., traits that manifested themselves while I was very very young.  We never really understood each other.  He was a marine for over twenty years.  As his oldest son, I was supposed to follow in his footsteps.  But I was the artistic one.  I wrote stories and poems; I played a musical instrument; I learned to cook; I was the “ultra religious” one (albeit in my early teens, something I grew out of.)  I did arts and crafts of nearly every kind.  I was confused growing up, not able to handle what I knew to be my true self and forced to be dishonest to myself and those around me.

He taught me a lot, too.  Some were overt lessons, the kind where he said, “Let me show you how to do this.”  Others were silent lessons, the kind you learned by paying attention.

He was fond of saying that his fingers just tasted good.  On weekends, we were always firing up the grill.  He’d grill the flesh of some animal, and nearly always there was potato salad.  I don’t like potato salad and resented being forced to make it.  I’m not saying I did a half-assed job, but it’s difficult to make something taste good when you refuse to actually taste it.  So dad started making it, and he mixed it together by hand.  Everyone who ate it remarked on how good it was.  Dad finally became convinced that is fingers tasted better than anyone else’s because that was truly the only difference between his making it and anyone else making it.

I like my steak rare, and he took it as a personal challenge to cook one rare enough to suit me.  He did not like his steak rare and had perfected a well done but juicy slab of beef.  At first, I’d get steak with the slightest red discoloration in the center.  Each time, the slightly red stripe would get wider and redder.  I kept giving input and it kept getting better.  Then one day, he set my steak in front of me and I sliced into it.  It was blue in the center.  It wasn’t even cooked.  The outside had the wonderful char marks, and it was seasoned perfectly.  But I couldn’t get past that raw center.  “Uhh, it needs a few more minutes on the grill, I think.” I said.  The whole family cracked up.  I stopped offering suggestions after that, and my steaks came out fine.

Just after mom died, dad decided to buy an RV and do some traveling, something he’d been wanting to do all his life.  When my ex-wife took over the ranch he was living on at the time, I was making supper just before he left.  I wanted something easy so it was homemade macaroni and cheeseburger.  He watched with interest and finally asked me to write the recipe down, along with any other easy one pot meals so when he was traveling he wouldn’t have to rely on McDonald’s every night.  I felt foolish writing down “Brown hamburger and season.  Make boxed macaroni and cheese.  Mix the two.”  But he liked it.

Mom and Dad were fisherman.  Avid fisherman.  So was my brother.  Dad did all kinds of fishing.  I remember once when we kids were very young and still living in South Carolina.  Dad went deep sea fishing and showed us a sting ray he’d caught.  Another time, he went deep sea fishing in San Diego.  He went with several other marines, and when they got back, they divvied up their haul.  Our freezer was always full of various forms of fish.  I don’t remember that we ever ate any of them.   Mom and I were the only two in the family that enjoyed seafood or fish.  But dad had the best time standing on the bank of any body of water casting a line and hoping for the best.  In Arizona, he and mom were constantly trying new forms of bait, some of them illicit in our state.  Like black licorice.  Supposedly, the local fish were crazy for the flavor, but you weren’t supposed to use it for that very reason.  Didn’t want to deplete the fish populations, I guess.

One of our family favorite meals was tacos.  We started eating tacos in New York, and when we moved to Arizona, it was like we’d moved to Heaven and started eating.  Fixing the tacos was an individual thing.  But making all the stuff to go into the tacos was a two person deal, for us.  We never used the store bought crispy tortillas.  Mom fried the corn tortillas in a small pan full of oil.  They’d get fried on one side for a few seconds, then flipped and fried on the other side for a few seconds.  This gave us hot, tasty, soft tacos.  There would be an enormous stack of these separated by paper napkins to help absorb the oil.  By the time we reached the bottom of the stack and burping stage, the tortillas would have grown soft and a little mushy.  About ten years ago, I went to visit dad, and my brother asked if we were having tacos, and could he have some?  He looked at me and said, “I love dad’s tacos.”  When they were ready, I bit into one and it was perfect.  I watched how he did things and it was exactly as I remembered growing up, but different.  And better.  Something dad did made them better though we couldn’t figure out what.

Maybe he just had better tasting fingers.

Mom and Dad's Wedding Day.  This is their flower girls, my cousins.

Mom and Dad’s Wedding Day. This is their flower girls, my cousins.

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4 Comments

  1. Funny , the small things we remember as get older. Those small things that become huge after we lose our parents. Things we gave so little attention to as kids but would walk over burning coals for now as “grown ups”.
    My Dad didn’t cook often but he had a golden touch. His Pepper Steak was incomparable. As was his London Broil. ( most likely the reason I prefer all my beef RARE as possible).
    And to this day no Mac N’Cheese will ever compare to my Mom’s. EVER.

    Most of all , I miss the conversations we’ll never have. As we get older we understand our parents more. In the last years of my Mom’s life we got so close. We had great conversations … just two adults , chewing the fat. And my Dad…I would give anything to say ” Dad, Mom’s being a pain in the ass….let’s grab a beer”.

    Small things.

    • One thing we’ll all have in common is the loss of our parents. My younger brother said after our mom died, “Parents are supposed to live forever.” He was the baby and it was his way of dealing with his loss. I do gotta say, Michael, when commented on my FB post, and called me Bud, just as you have for decades, it made me tear up a little. It was much appreciated. Thanks.

  2. I am very sorry for your loss, Joe.

    And, I could identify somewhat with your description of your dad. My father was a real “man’s man” kind of guy, and we really didn’t understand each other well when I was growing up. However, we both seemed to mellow a bit with time and eventually did come to appreciate each other … which was a great thing!

    • Thanks. My dad and I mellowed and got to know each other a little better. Then after I came out to him, he stopped talking to me for years. When he entered his final illness, we reached out to each other again, but at the end, his disease made him cranky and angry which he took out on me, as he usually did throughout my life. So right up to the end it was an up and down relationship, but I have no regrets. I did the best I could and I know he did too.


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