Goodbye My Bad Ass Gentle Giant

Daddy joined mom right before the holidays and the world is less without him.  The first time I remember my daddy (I come from a blended family) I was 6, and sent to spend the night with him at his house to play with my soon to be new brother Gerry.  I hardly knew this man but immediately he felt safe and kind.  At 6 years old what stood out to me was dinner – and how unlike in my house, Gerry was not made to eat his peas if he didn’t want to!  I was jealous.  That soon changed, as under mom’s roof we all belonged to the “clean plate club” whether we considered “the plate” edible or not.

A quiet man with a dry sense of humor, daddy (now on my birth certificate via adoption) was a great provider and source of stability.  He and mom did have their rows though, and you could always tell when, if the silence was deafening and Wendy’s came home in a bag for dinner.  Daddy’s humor did NOT extend to practical jokes (when performed on HIM) as mom soon found out when, their first April Fools Day together, she made pancakes with cardboard in the middle of them.  Bless her heart she thought that was going to be so funny, and I believe I witnessed daddy’s long gray face for the first time that day … this was a face that over the years we all knew to quietly back away from…few and far between, but when he blew, he BLEW!  One time, mom was “on strike” and was not at home for dinner, so I thought I might help and make hamburgers.   Daddy loves beef – I’ll make him feel good, right?!?  I quickly learned, when daddy threw the burgers across the room, that he doesn’t like creativity in his mix.  No onion, garlic, worchestershire, etc., – as the years wore on and my culinary skills developed, I had to be careful not to get too fancy on daddy’s “meat and potato” mentality.  A rare steak with the blood poured over the baked potato, and he’s in heaven, thank you very much!  Later in life daddy would develop an interest in cooking; we shared bread recipes and I was able to give him a few cooking tools that helped.  Yay!  Christmas solved!

With four kids in the house and daddy being a Navy man, special times with him were few and far between.   A couple of special “daddy/daughter” outings stand out in my mind when mom was sick and they had tickets to see, wait for it, how old are you??, Fred Waring, and another time Roger Williams (does the song “Autumn Leaves” ring a bell?)  I was seven years old, and I got to wear mom’s MINK STOLE! which I have in my closet right now, waiting for my brilliance to figure out a way to update it.  Any thoughts?  While I don’t buy real fur now, I see no reason not to repurpose this for sentimental reasons.
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Another daddy/daughter adventure was learning to drive.  I will be forever grateful that I learned on daddy’s Datsun 4 speed pickup truck.  Now, there’s not a vehicle on the road I couldn’t drive (though some might argue how safely).  Over a 3 month period I was getting lifeguard certification and the trips to and from the pool put daddy and me in the car, him extremely patient and kind every time I ripped his gears apart, and always ready to drop into Burger King for my favorite, The Whaler.  This is when I became the “Burger Queen”.  To this day I declare my sovereignty whenever I bestow the BK with my presence (every couple of years or so on a road trip) by demanding a crown, and announcing to whomever will listen that I “AM THE BURGER QUEEN!”  Gordon just adores it when I do this.  Not.  Remember those teenage years when you could not eat ENOUGH and none of it showed up on you anywhere?!?  Ahh…sweet memories…

We weren’t rich and most celebrations were spent at Red Lobster, but occasionally, VERY occasionally, we went to mom and dad’s favorite spot, the Elite Epicurean.  Now closed, this Greek white tablecloth restaurant was where I was introduced to tyropita, a greek cheese pastry.  Tyropita became one of the great loves of my life (go figure – it’s cheesy FOOD).  On Lula’s menu now is a derivation I have created from the more popular and well known Spanakopita, and I call it Spanyropita!!  Healthier than Tyropita, but cheesier than Spanakopita, it is the best of both worlds.

Daddy and I didn’t have much in common; his talents lay in his handiwork – he built furniture for our house, a harpsichord for my mom, and even a small replica OF our house in the back yard to house my mother’s music studio and his shop – this all from the foundation to the roof.  People were constantly in awe of his talents.

My talents lay in the arts – piano, singing, dance – and my first discovery of a Tuna Melt happened when daddy drove me 3.5 hours to Atlanta for a piano audition (it was the audition that landed me in Cincinnati on scholarship to CCM!).  I couldn’t eat BEFORE the audition – too nervous – but I was ravenous after, and prior to hitting the 3.5 hour trail home we ate in the Rich’s Dept. Store restaurant.  I have been a fan ever since of the Tuna Melt.  Naturally, Lula’s makes a better one than anyone else because of our fantastic Tuna Tapenade salad and our use of high quality cheddar!

Daddy also loved boats and we always had one.  We spent hours/days on the Mahvelous Mahgie (named after, you guessed it – my mother) – a 3 decked “cabin cruiser” docked at Lake Murray for the better part of my childhood and young adulthood.  Late in high school daddy converted it to a deep sea fishing boat and we dined on Wahoo quite a bit (look it up!).  Wahoo could be so “steaky” that we frequently had it with tomato sauce!  Later, daddy would discover a passion for sailing, and he traded in the Mahvelous Mahgie for the Shoo Fly, and spent literally the rest of his days winning or placing in regattas.  While I loved sailing, some of my fondest memories are of anchoring near our favorite Lake Murray beaches, swimming and splashing all day, and Dinty Moore Stew or Chef Boyardee Beefaroni being slapped out of a can into a cup for lunch.

Much later, when daddy’s brother died, daddy inherited his Harley Davidson motorcycle, and though my mother was worried about safety issues, daddy did develop a love for riding.  When my brother moved back to be near him in his old age, my crazy father got back on a new Harley and joined the local “gang” (of do-gooders who ride for charity) and became the revered and loved oldest member of “Harley Haven”.  He kept passing out though, so we convinced him that a trike would be best from now on.  Yes, Harley Davidson makes trikes.  Yes, they sound as obnoxious as the 2 wheeled version. 🙂
So who do we have here – a tall, quiet man, an excellent provider and confidant who races sailboats, bakes bread, builds furniture and rides motorcycles (all well into his eighties I might add)?  A bad ass gentle giant, that’s who.  My daddy.

 

A Note From Chef Lori

Don’t forget to check out Lula’s recipe for Winter Greens Lasagna in the latest issue of Edible Ohio Valley!

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