In Honour of Father's Day: A Story About My Dad

Dad Cooks

“Jimmy, come quick, Dad’s cooking!”

Dad’s cooking?” My brother knew something was up. Mom always did the cooking at our house.

“Yeah, come on, let’s watch him. He’s making french fries!”

We dashed into the house and sank down on the vinyl chairs around the arborite table. Dad stood in the middle of the kitchen, a tea towel tucked around his pants, like a chef. Holding a few potatoes in one hand, a paring knife in the other, he dropped them into the enamel sink and ran the cold water. After peeling them, he moved to a cutting board on the table and stood over the pile. Without saying a word, he began to slice the potatoes into layers and sliver them into long squared pieces, carefully dropping them into cold water as he worked. His rough fingers, plump like sausages, were more used to manual labour than food preparation. In the days before frozen supermarket fries, he amazed us by replicating what we’d only seen in restaurants.

In fact, Dad had worked as a short-order cook. In the 1930s, after riding the rails to New Brunswick and back to Manitoba, a sawmill foreman told him to “get a trade”, to make something of himself. When he first arrived in Toronto, he waitered occasionally at the Savarin Hotel while taking welding courses at night. One night, the owner of Hunt’s Restaurant offered him a training course and steady job at $7.00 a week. Dad accepted because welding jobs were still scarce. He worked for Hunt’s for 5 years, moving from a kitchen on Mount Pleasant Road, to another at St. Clair and Oakwood, and finally, to College and Dovercourt, increasing his pay by $1.00 a week with each move and advancing to manager. In those days, you could get Today’s Special, a complete meal, for 35 cents! In 1939, when wartime created industrial jobs, Dad moved on to welding and never looked back. Except for these odd moments of culinary inspiration.

Sometimes when preparing french fries Dad used the sunken burner and deep pot in the back left corner of the electric range. This time, he bent over the pot cupboard, pulled the deep-fryer from the back and poured in the oil. After bringing it to a boil, he carefully lowered the basket of raw potatoes into the yellow bubbles, his eyes fixed on the pot. Sometimes he would par-boil them and set the potatoes aside to be finished off to a golden brown at the last moment before eating. All four of us sat entranced with the entire process, nostrils filled with the heady smell of frying oil, our mouths open and watering, impatient to taste his masterpiece.

Mom remained in the background while Dad cooked, only emerging at the end to hand us the malt vinegar, salt and ketchup and slip in a vegetable and a few slices of meat to complete the meal.

Copyright © 2010, Ruth Zaryski Jackson

My Writing Group: Life Writers Ink

In the May/June issue of The Word Weaver - the newsletter for The Writers' Circle of Durham Region - is an article on page 3 by Mary McIntyre about our writing group, Life Writer's Ink. Please have a look.

The Road: To Milo

I struggled with the idea of writing something to read at Milo’s funeral. I had never been able to speak at a funeral, even my father’s. I always feared tears would overwhelm me and erase anything I might be trying to say. My husband’s urgings just served to make me more anxious. “I can’t write under pressure! I’m not a Hallmark writer. I work to an inner rhythm”.

I wanted to write something for her, for my step-daughter, my daughter, whom I came to love and admire after over 40 years. The step-daughter who was 5 years older than my first child and forced me to parent her before I was ready. When she hit puberty and needed guidance, I was still dealing with my son’s childhood issues, baseball, summer camp, and public school. Scrambling, I did buy her first bra, bought books explaining the ‘facts of life’ and tried to offer what help I could since she lived with her mother in Toronto and only spent alternate weekends and some holidays with us.

Over the five days in Edmonton I worked on a poem using random notes I had written on the plane. I didn’t know where I was going with it but I knew I wanted it to be a tribute to her strengths. By the night before the funeral, I wasn’t happy with the ending and felt unsure about reading it. Then I realized that was symbolic for all that had happened. I wasn’t happy with her life ending prematurely either. So I read it as is. Perhaps I will tweak it further. Perhaps not.

To Milo

Milo, named for an actress you never knew,
You trekked your bumpy way
Into our lives, our hearts.

Resilient, smiling, resolute,
You navigated two worlds,
Careful never to misstep
The line between country and city.

From school to school, then college.
On to parenthood before we knew it.
Dark years left behind
Out shadowed by baby light,
Travel, another child,
The petite daughter to complete your family,
Submerged in happy domesticity.

More years of turmoil:
You made choices to survive,
Protect your chicks,
Rise above sorrow, grief,
Your mother’s passing.

Seven years in South Dakota brightened life,
College beckoned.
Happiness broke through in snatches.
Back to Alberta, familiar ground
Where you lost and found love.

All the while a mother,
The finest of mothers.

We grieve now with your children,
Almost grown.
Raised and ready
To catch that cold north wind,
Change it into honeyed breezes.

With thoughts of you:
Whispering, directing,
Guiding, giggling,
Quizzing, questioning,
Always loving.

We grieve with the love that appeared,
The one who slipped in,
Grabbed you unawares,
Not knowing you had so little time.

We grieve as parents,
Our daughter lost,
Not meant to outlive our children.

Copyright © 2010, Ruth Zaryski Jackson

The Scent of Lilacs

I was meeting a friend for lunch at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton on May 6th, 2010 when my husband called to tell me Milo had died. I kept saying “who?” “who died?”. The facts just wouldn’t sink in. “Not Milo!” In a daze I wandered into the foyer to find Marilyn who hadn’t arrived yet. I kept pacing back and forth from one end to the other looking for her. She finally appeared. I waited until we sat down to lunch before blurting out the news. She cried while I robotically repeated the words. We ordered and talked then she asked me if I wanted to go back home. “No,” I said. “I want to see the lilacs. Let’s walk.”

The Lilac Festival was the following weekend and the bushes were in their glory. Purples, mauves, pinks and whites of all species. The flowers never smelled so fragrant to me or looked so glorious. I savoured every inhalation and every vista. We walked slowly and I took many photographs. I thought of Milo and how she would never have this chance again. I thought about how fragile life is and how lucky I was to be able to experience the scent of lilac for another season. We walked and talked. I’m glad I took that time. After a few hours I was ready to drive home, call the airline and fly to Edmonton to face reality.