My dad woke me up at 6:30 this morning to discuss the final details for Thanksgiving tomorrow. As he's getting older, we're having most holidays at his house now so he and my grandmother don't have to travel. We've been doing this holiday thing for years probably since I could pull a chair up to the stove to stand on it to stir a pot.
My husband picked up the phone and said, "He wants to know what you want to drink on Thursday." Being more than half asleep, I thought maybe he meant I should bring wine along with the things I was making but I didn't feel like wine. It has the strange effect of having me pick up the mood of the company I'm in and my dad is, frankly, really cranky.
Do I honestly have to say, "I love my dad"? The man brought me into the world and 40 something years later is still content to put up with my crap. He still calls me regularly, doggedly, loyally and asks when he's gonna see me again. Wants to know how my day is and what's new. Though I've never been Daddy's Little Girl, (that was my sister) I was his first and that's special too. Never has any man been more devoted to me. I could not NOT love my dad. But there is the cranky thing.
Here's the thing; probably because of him, I actually like grumpy guys. Do the love and the cranky go hand in hand like a little girl and her daddy? Could be. Maybe it's a good counterbalance to my own sunshine and loopy lollipop demeanor. I feel like I can tone down the volume around a grump if that makes any sense. I even dote on my grouchy cats and zero in on the counter guy with the grimace (or gas) on his face at the butcher shop. Maybe it's like a really complicated form of peekaboo--what can I do to make you laugh? I bet I can make you laugh! Laugh!! Who knows why, but the laugh has always been reward enough for me. It really doesn't take much to make me happy.
I don't follow sports, and Dad's an ex-football coach. I like old movies and he prefers to scream at anything on SyFy channel. I like Koontz and King and he's demanding I admit that McCammon is better. (He is. I still won't admit it) He often says, 'You don't want that. You know what you want?" which drives me up a wall. He doesn't know how to talk about a lot of things and like most men 'feelings' makes him sweat. The conversations always end when he says I 'shoulda been a Philadelphia lawyer' and 'Do you want some pie?"
Thankfully, there IS one thing that my dad and I can agree on enthusiastically and that's food, and particularly cooking.
Three people taught me how to cook. At the same time, they also taught me how to love.
My mother taught me participation and precision. A good cook would be ashamed of dull knives. Make sure you have plenty of cutting boards. Stir frequently. Keep a low flame. Cook your onions slowly and lovingly. Learn your cuts of meat and what cooks best on the stove or in the oven. Throw a pat of butter in with olive oil to temper it. Peel your celery, for God's sake, you aren't a heathen. Check all your expiration dates and crack eggs into a separate cup in case one is bad. Make friends with your butcher and grocer and above all, everything must be fresh and clean. Mom was tough as hell but the hardest teachers always got through my thick stubborn skull and that knowledge stuck for good. Stick with it, Honey.
My mom's mom, Granma, taught me primarily through observation. Watch, learn, be patient and improvise. I sat on a stool or at the kitchen table, looked and listened. Measuring cups were only containers to her. She taught me how to 'eyeball' before Rachael Ray was even born. A former war refugee from Poland to Germany, she had to learn how to make filling, simple and healthy meals from the most humble ingredients. If you had a potato an onion and a strip of bacon or an egg and some black pepper, you had the makings of a delicious meal and somehow it could feed, like Jesus' loaves and fishes, a multitude. And she did it quickly, like Jesus, like magic. She took care of her children and her husband. Responsibility? Yes. Duty? That too. Love? There was no doubt of it.
My dad was the artiste', the most daring. Rules? He didn't need no stinkin' rules. Cookbooks and recipes were mere suggestions and he substituted ingredients with impunity. He taught me the sheer joy of planing menus and cooking for fun. We would 'rehearse cook' for holidays. Even his most abject failures were delicious. There was and is a lot of laughing in the kitchen with Dad. He taught me to approach cooking not with fear but with wild abandon. He taught me collaboration. That same philosophy, those little lessons, can be applied to how to love as well.
They all taught me that to feed people is one of the greatest, most creative yet simplest expressions of love. Why, the first act of love everyone on earth experiences is before they're born; being nourished from their mother's body, so is it any wonder, any mystery that both food and nourishment are associated with love, enjoyment and satisfaction? I'll admit I'm biased because so many of my happiest experiences involved both happy feasts for twenty and simple intimate conversations for two over saltines with butter and jam. But to me, to deny oneself of food and communion of it with others is to deny oneself of love. I could never and won't separate the two and I don't want to.
That's not to deny that there are many ways to express love. Before I die, I hope to experience them all, giving and receiving but this one is the native language of my family, my people, my clan.
Every lesson learned at the elbows of my cooking teachers at home wasn't intended to impart how to love but rather how to feed. Inadvertently, irrevocably, however, it came to mean both to me. How could it not?
Tomorrow, my father will call to remind me to bring extra foil, gallon size storage bags and plastic containers for leftovers. I'm to take some love home with me too. This is how he speaks to me. This is his language which I speak fluently and I am so very grateful for love and leftovers.