Remembering Dad

Dear Dad, We had a great time celebrating your 87th, didn’t we?

I have to confess that we have converted the fireplace to gas since then. We missed having you around to make a fire and, well, ours just weren’t quite the same…

I promise I’ll stop rewriting and rethinking and finish our book. It’s just that I have realized some things since you died and had to make some edits.

I’m writing more than ever and working hard at it. I think I’ve made my editor and publisher nuts. How many revisions did you do to your plans before you were satisfied? The early sketches flowed then the real work of craft began, right..?

Thank you for all our time together. Pretty soon I’ll be able to share your stories. They just weren’t meant for me alone. I love you. It’s custard pie in Heaven today! Happy Birthday!


A Soldier in the Distance

What I had once been driven to do through dance, using my physical and spiritual strength, I began to find through being still, with pen and paper. Movement of my soul.

I felt differently about writing after my brother died. Bring him back. Quick, someone get it down before we lose anyone else. A vehicle to make what’s temporal, timeless.

It’s maybe ironic that what moved me to write, also unmoved me and I packed it away for several years. Afraid.

I had mentioned his death in a story that brought it all back to someone. Seeing the pain on that face was inexplicable. I froze like the icy snow in the story she later told me to encourage me on……

It was a snowstorm that pressed icy winds against the drafty old house, sending moans throughout its walls and floorboards. Cold air worked its way in through the window frames. Whirls of snow blew in the air and across the field to the west. By mid afternoon, what had seemed cozy earlier became confining for three little kids.

When the snow stopped and the sun peered through the thick grey quilt of a sky, reflecting a glistening bed of snow waiting to be jumped on, Mom quieted our rambunctious voices long enough to say, “Enough!! Get your snowsuits on.” Twenty minutes later we were out the door. Capped, zipped and booted.

We marched up the hill to the stone road behind the gate at the top of the driveway, laughing, thrilled to be in the fresh air and stomping through the deep drifts of snow. Mom was happy to have our energy released in a space large enough to contain it. Ed trudged on ahead while John and I fell backwards together into the soft white blanket and waved our arms and legs. “Eddie, look! Angels!” We called out but he was already busy making a fort. Preferring his project to ours, we made our way over to him and all worked together.

It wasn’t long though before the sun tucked itself back behind the weighty clouds and the wind started up again. Mom pulled our scarves up over our chins and was concerned by the ominous, sudden change in the wind’s direction. She gathered Johnny up in one arm and took hold of my mittened hand in the other. “Eddie!” She called through the wind. “Let’s go back.”

His dark eyelashes blinked away snow, “Okay,” he shouted. “I’ll lead the way!”

He led us back up the road. Our trip was quicker going than it was returning, as it often is. John tucked his head in Mom’s collar and I kept mine down out of the sleety wind as she guided my steps. “What if we don’t make it back,” someone asked as the wind was doing its best to push us the opposite direction we were headed.

“Come on, guys!” Ed shouted, looking on the road in the distance like a toy soldier.

As we neared the house, we could see the glass in the upper panel of the storm door rattling as the yellow light from the kitchen glowed against the darkening sky and filled the window like a lamp, beckoning us inside.

Ed was wrestling with the doorknob, his hands working hard inside icy mittens. With a swift kick of his sturdy little leg, the old door flew open and with frozen fingers and toes, we were all once again safe inside the womb of warmth we called home.

sledding!I think of Ed like that now, a soldier on the road in the distance….almost hearing his voice, “Guys look! Angels!”….guiding us towards the door so we can enter in, away from danger. All grief. The glow of the light against the darkness shines like a lamp, beckoning us onward.

Food Can Say It All

Like dance, to really enjoy writing, I need time and space. I’ve learned to fit it in around my work, my life, and not to think I need a different one in order to make it happen. In fact, the sense of urgency to get through something is probably exactly what I need in order to do it. If I had time to sit home all day, I might become listless. Wordless. I like to be alone and I like quiet but I’ve learned to shut out distractions when needed. I realized this past Sunday, cooking is a lot the same–I need time and space to think to do it well and to really enjoy it. Unlike my writing, I like to listen to Beethoven when I cook–he must have understood a good meal because I can hear in his music the same passion involved in good cooking.

My garden was a bust because of all the repairs we had done this summer but on Sunday, Todd found one yellow squash buried in the brush. I never even got the little plant out of it's Home Depot pot!

My garden was a bust because of all the repairs we had done this summer but on Sunday, Todd found one yellow squash buried in the brush. I never even got the little plant out of it’s Home Depot pot!

Most often, my meals are prepared in haste. I’m usually tired from the day, the week or the night before. I push through the preparations with a clear goal in sight and the seemingly great reward of feeding those I love and care about. Often when words can’t be spoken, a rich stew with complex flavors can say it all. I’m not big on fancy sauces but I haven’t spent much time on them. I like home cooking prepared with love. My mom taught me that. I included a favorite stew recipe–because it’s easy and good–in the About section of Sundays With Dad. I deleted it several times thinking it was stupid but always put it back in. The truth is, for me, the best times are meal times with my family and friends–and my stories with Dad, my cooking with Mom go together.

It’s the end of summer and I’ve taken some time to refuel, take care of myself, and reflect. What a gift. This past Sunday I had the day to prepare dinner and I decided to make Dad’s favorite meal–meatloaf, potatoes, creamed corn and Aunt Norma’s jello (which I have never made and had to call my sister). “Cool Whip. Stir it in before it sets.” She texted. Todd brought home a can of Redi Whip. Mom used to tell Dad he didn’t listen or read labels when she sent him to the store for ingredients. I married my father.

I dug out my 50 year old Learn How to Cook with Betty Crocker cookbook, a gift from Mom when we started cooking together. I wanted to check on my old meatloaf recipe. I hardly ever follow a recipe. Call it attention deficit or artistry, I make original creations. Something was wrong with my last meatloaf–forgot the salt, added an extra egg, onions and green peppers were too big, I over baked it.  How can you wreck a meatloaf?!

But last Sunday, unlike most days, I could take my time. The music played, the warm summer air blew in through the windows, the wind chime echoed through the trees outside the back door and I read through the recipe from that little book, bringing back so many memories. The first time I made brownies I hadn’t realized Mom would double the recipe. I spread the gooey chocolateness in a very thin layer over the stretch of the pan figuring it would rise to heaven as it baked. I still remember slicing our dessert and passing it out at the dinner table. Dad smiled encouragingly as he crunched, Joanie dunked hers in milk, John called it brownie brittle, Ed laughed and pounded out a rhythm on his plate, Mom gently whispered in my ear, my error, while dunking hers in coffee.

This Sunday dinner though was perfection. Instead of the usual mashed potatoes and gravy, along with the Betty Crocker meatloaf, I sautéed onions and sliced red potatoes, mixing in some slightly charred red peppers at the end. Then simmered summer squash in olive oil with thyme, and sliced up a menagerie of those beautiful colored little tomatoes–orange, yellow, red, purple–adding red wine vinegar, oil and a little fresh basil. Not too much though or Dad will say, “What’s that funny taste.”   As for the jello, I sprayed that entire can in, stirred the curdles and stuck it in the freezer. It was a weird looking wiggly thing. The guys ate it but it had to be balanced carefully on their spoons in order to make it to their mouths. Sam (our dog) liked it too. I passed.

When Mom lay on her bed taking her last breaths on this earth, I noticed she started to move her mouth like she was eating something delicious. She even made the “Mmmmm,” sound, like she would when she enjoyed my cooking. As I watched those last hours of her– halfway on earth, halfway in heaven–I wondered what the food will be like there.

Mom's kitchen. It wasn't big but she always said we could cook together and never get in each others way.

Mom’s kitchen. It wasn’t big but she always said we could cook together and never get in each other’s way.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  Psalm 34:8