It’s Father’s Week. Like birthdays, I am a believer in extending the celebration as long as possible, especially when the celebration is about me (he said, humbly.) I’ve got my reasons.
Father’s Day, this past Sunday, was actually very unique. I could tell others thought it unique as well, at least based on the looks The Wife and I got as we sat alone for brunch at Restaurant Tyler. Without my kids. Without my father. On Father’s Day. Ironically, my father was with my daughter in another state, celebrating with my brother. I am good with that. Daughter called me in the afternoon to deliver her greetings, and when the awkward silences began to ensue, I asked her to hand the phone to Doc. Two birds with one call. Son was gone most of the day to Scout camp, where he is actually earning his own money rather than spending mine, so that was a pretty good father moment, too.
As for my progressive Father’s Day meals, they began on Friday night with a dinner at Julep Restaurant in Jackson – deep fried pimento cheese, fried chicken glazed with honey and rosemary, catfish tacos, Portobello fries. Not a bad start. Saturday morning at the Community Market provided a chocolate chip scone with a mint lemonade to begin the morning, then a sampling from Chef Jay Yates’ demonstration of smoked duck hash followed by cannonball squash pasta. A mango-peach smoothie from the Book Mart Café cooled me down after one of our warmer market mornings. Son was on a weekend break from scout camp that day, so we did an Almost-Father’s-Day supper at CJ’s Pizza and I got to order what I wanted, no guilt. For brunch on Sunday I got Chef Ty’s daily special, the Fried Green Tomato Eggs Benedict Biscuit and the always creamy cheese grits. Dessert was a lemon cupcake at Granny’s 97th birthday party. With all that good stuff behind me, that means I’m back on the wagon the rest of the week; a beach trip is on the horizon and I fear the black swimsuit on my pale skin might prompt cries of “Free Willy” if I enjoy too many more weekends like this.
Another side effect of having a quieter house this week has been time for reflection, and with Father’s Day on the horizon I had some time to ponder how food and father memories have become intertwined over these forty-something years. Daddy brought us to Starkville in late 1967. I left for a little while, but The Parents have been a steady presence here. Most folks know Daddy as a teacher. If you taught at TSAT (The School Across Town) between 1967 and 2001 you probably ran into him; if you were a student and needed math (hello, everybody) in that period there’s a good chance you had him or knew someone who did; and if you were in the junior/senior boy’s Sunday School class at First Baptist in the late seventies/early eighties, he was there, too. I didn’t take my math at TSAT, but by all accounts he was both tough and beloved.
When it came to the kitchen, however, the lessons were few and far between. Mama was the cook in our house, but over the years a few meals acquired his signature, and when it came to those, Mama happily handed over the apron.
My earliest memory of Daddy’s cooking was his now-famous lasagna. I seem to recall that Mama was off on a handbell trip, leaving Daddy to fend for two boys. He found a recipe on the side of the Skinner lasagna box, a recipe that would eventually be praised and requested over a legion of dinner parties, university snow-skiing trips, and church functions. But the genius in this recipe was Daddy’s secret ingredient. He snuck in a layer of pepperoni, and that, my friends, made all the difference. Pepperoni: it does a lasagna good. It’s not just for breakfast anymore; it’s what’s for dinner.
He is also pretty handy on the grill. His current specialty is pork loin; in earlier days it was steak. When I get ready to grill something, I break out the marinades and let the meat soak for a day or so. The spice cabinet gets emptied for the latest rub recipe I’ve come across. I’m pretty sure Daddy used salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce. And yes, his steaks kick mine in the butt roast. Ditto for his chicken, something else he’s cooked in mass quantities, using a simple recipe borrowed from Bo Haynes.
When the Crock-Pot made its way to our house, Daddy took it over as well. In one of my first columns I shared the recipe for his Crock-Pot Barbecue. (Check the SDN archives for October/November 2010.) Since those days I have become a bit of a barbecue purist – some might even say snob. I look for smoke and I look for wood and I like the sauce on the side. His meets none of those specs. But it’s still pork, it’s still slow-cooked, and it still makes my mouth water when I think about it. It works.
On the flip side, I appreciate the fact that he will try just about anything I put in front of him. When I made sweet corn cake and corn ice cream for my birthday last year, out of all the family members subjected to it, he was the most polite in declining seconds.
Many who know us both have said, “You sound just like Jerry Reed.” I take that as a compliment. He retired from teaching math a long time ago, but when it comes to fatherhood lessons, I am still a student. And these days – as my own kids can testify – he is a little less tough, but just as beloved.