What my father ate

I just learned that a friend’s father died. I find myself wanting desperately to say something comforting, but I know from experience that there is nothing to be said.

I remember two things that my father ate and taught me to love. The first is ketchup and scrambled eggs. Dad’s mother was an excellent cook. Ketchup on eggs had nothing to do with her cooking. Instead, it was a product of her practical nature.

With the Korean Conflict raging and my father at the right age for the draft, his mother did the only sensible thing. Since this story isn’t about poutine, you know it doesn’t involve Canada. No, my grandmother took my dad to the Navy recruiting office. She couldn’t keep him out of the war, but at least she could keep him out of the line of fire.

My dad didn’t make a career out of the Navy, but his tour did take him to places that few Mississippi boys growing up on dairy farms ever had the chance to see. He saw San Francisco. He saw Hawaii. He saw Hong Kong. He saw Tokyo. And all along the way he saw lots of powdered eggs. Apparently, the only way to salvage powdered eggs is with liberal doses of ketchup. Even when he came home to good eggs, he liked ketchup on them.

The other thing he liked, the thing that reminded me of him this week, was open-faced roast beef sandwiches. I think that the Platonic ideal of the open-faced roast beef sandwich goes like this: a slice of white bread goes on the plate. Another slice cut in half is laid down, one slice on either side of the first slice. Next, hunks of roast beef are laid out on the first slice. Yes, hunks. If you have to slice your roast beef, then your roast beef is too tough.

After the nice, tender roast beef, a serving of extra creamy mashed potatoes. I usually like my mashed potatoes to be a bit lumpy. That way you know they aren’t over-processed and haven’t had their spirit beaten down. Finally, a good pour of gravy. And a fork.

You can’t pick up an open-faced sandwich. You can’t even close an open-faced sandwich. They make for good eating though.

My friend is a beautiful storyteller. I am sure she has her own beautiful stories. I know that no one else’s words help. I know that your own stories can help. And best of all, they’re always with you.

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One thought on “What my father ate

  • January 8, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    I love that you thought of something so simple when you thought of your father. Food can conjure up so many good memories of family & friends. Tasting them can make us cry a little bit but mostly make us smile. My grandmother used to make her own hot sauce. Since she has passed, my father has continued this tradition & continued the recipe. Every time I go home I can’t leave until he gives me a batch. That thread of tradition & food memory continues.

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