One day when I was younger, I asked my dad to teach me how to cook and bake. Mom and he took turns cooking, but Dad did most of the baking. He cooked and baked during most of the time he was in the Navy, and I couldn’t have been more grateful that he brought his work home with him.
At different points throughout college, I called my dad for advice about cooking and baking. How much cold water for the crust? How much difference does nutmeg make? He gave me tips on many of his recipes, that while it was important to measure exactly, he told me to observe consistencies and textures and trust my instincts on what “looks” right. He told me not to be afraid to taste and adjust accordingly.
Sometimes my attempts were successful, and other times reminded me that I needed more practice. And that maybe I needed to trust myself more.
The missionaries came over all the time for meals, and my dad proudly fed them. His goal was always to overfeed them. He was constantly tasting and stirring and seasoning and often experimenting. He made great stews and steaks and chili. He made a great sweet-and-sour sauce that went well with pork or fish or chicken.
Dad likes to tell a story about a time he was at sea and preparing a meal for all the sailors on board. The the ocean was rolling, and he was trying to bake bread, but the bread pans would slide in the oven and bang against the side, and the dough would inevitably fall. My dad was a perfectionist with his baking, and he would always throw away his sunken attempts and try again.
He figured out that he should make enough dough to fill enough loaf pans to put into the oven at the same time, to pack them side by side, across the oven rack, fitted against each other and the oven walls. This allowed the bread to rise and the sailors to have homemade bread for their meals.
His best work was always his baking. At holiday times he made multiple pies. He made cookies and cinnamon rolls and cakes. It’s hard to imagine a time when our home didn’t smell amazing.
He taught me how to make French toast and how to tell when to flip over pancakes. He made enormous three-egg omelets and cooked bacon and sausage perfectly. I owe my love of breakfast to my dad.
I learned the importance of a clean workspace from him. He said to clean as I go, for not only does that free up space that I need for the next delicious thing to prepare, it prevents a giant pile of dishes to wash at the very end.
He baked whenever, not just for holidays. Sometimes I would help him roll out his perfect pie crust for pumpkin or apple or cherry cream cheese or pecan pie. Sometimes I would help cut the pie crust into smaller circles to fill for turnovers. Then he’d let me seal the edges with a fork and paint the turnovers with an eggwash. They went into the oven, then I’d mix some powdered sugar and milk to brush over them as a glaze once they cooled off .
He’d let me sprinkle sugar and cinnamon across rolled-out bread dough that had been brushed with melted butter. Sometimes there were raisins. He’d roll the dough back up and slice cross-sections and place them on a baking sheet and let them rise. Then he’d bake and ice them in the morning for fresh cinnamon rolls for breakfast.
Waking up was never hard for me as a kid.
Banana bread happened quite frequently. He let a couple of bananas go beyond ripe, soft and almost black, and nearly self-dissolved in sweetness, and he would put them in the freezer until he needed them. I remember doing homework in my room and suddenly smelling banana bread and coming out of my room for a warm piece sometimes served with a scoop of ice cream.
Then, of course, there was the eating of our creation. And the sharing. My dad always shared with guests and neighbors and folks from church. He always made plenty. He loved being busy in the kitchen. He loves making people happy.
The other day, my aunt told me over the phone that my dad has driven to places several times and couldn’t find his way home. In his clearer moments he realized that he isn’t safe–he is endangering himself and others–and he suggested to my aunt that he can’t live on his own.
She said there were times that she’s found him sitting in his chair, staring at the walls, waiting to die.
But he’s on antidepressants now.
He’s in a lot of pain a lot of the time, and his doctor scheduled him for a follow-up surgery on a long-standing condition he has, but according to my aunt, no one has checked on the effects of the combination of medications he is taking. His blood is thin, his heart is bad: he is not a good candidate for surgery. At my aunt’s insistence, the doctor referred him to a specialist.
Dad gave my aunt power of attorney and she’s been trying to organize his affairs. He’ll get rid of his house. And his truck. He won’t be driving anymore.
He’ll be checking into assisted living. He and my aunt have checked out the facility, and apparently, Dad has already made friends with a neighbor across the hall from his room.
He knows that my aunt and I have been talking. He worries that she’s told me everything.
It’s important for me to know.
She’s such a good sister to him, and I cannot imagine what it’s like for her to watch him fade before her eyes. She has only wanted for him to be happy.
She said that doctors have diagnosed him, and there’s only so much they can treat.
My aunt said that the missionaries don’t come over anymore.
Dad has stopped cooking and baking completely.
He’s forgotten the recipes.