Archive for June, 2010

Father’s Day Retrospective.


I suppose I should say something about fathers, this being Father’s Day and all. Specifically, something about my father, who died 16 years ago this month.

My dad was a hard worker who built his lumber business from door-to-door firewood sales to becoming one of the largest lumber yards in town before he auctioned it all off a few months before his death. By the time this happened, larger chain-type lumber suppliers had come to town, Dad was ready to retire, and none of his daughters felt compelled to keep the business going. It must have been heartbreaking for him to see it all go, piece by piece, but I was angry with him most of my adult life and didn’t spend time thinking about his feelings. By the time I got around to figuring out what his life must have been like, it was too late to talk to him about it.

My dad was a man of few words (most of them angry) and whose feelings of anxiety, rage, bitterness or depression were drowned in alcohol from bottles he kept hidden around the house. When I was a kid, I would sometimes find them and empty them down the sink, or dilute them with water, but it didn’t matter. There were always more. He seemed to be drunk all the time, whether he was at work or somewhere else, and often when he was home he was asleep in his room, self-medicating himself through whatever hell was troubling him at any given moment.

And there must have been a lot of hell in his life, from a cold and abusive father of his own, to a marriage that ended too quickly with the death of my mother, to being left alone with 4 little kids to raise, to money worries, business woes, personal anxieties, and all of it lubricated with the very stuff that eventually contributed to his death.

I never knew him very well. We didn’t talk when I was a kid. His conversations with us were usually angry or scolding. I felt safe with my mother in the house, but after she died I saw my dad as some kind of raging monster, and I avoided him as much as I was able. I felt more comfortable when he was at work or when he was asleep. I didn’t know how to “be” around him. I was always on edge when he was around.

He was not a loving, doting father who made his daughters feel like princesses, and only once in my entire life did I hear him say “I love you” to me, and it was such a shock that I believed he thought I was someone else. He never talked to us about boys, or life in general, or how to conduct ourselves in the world, so we learned on our own. I remember one brief serious conversation I had with him at my sister’s cabin many years ago. If I had persisted it might have been more meaningful, but he was a stranger to me, so I didn’t. I regret that.

There were good things about my dad. He provided for his family. He worked hard. He actually had a good sense of humor that he let us see from time to time. But mostly I remember him being angry or drunk or humiliating himself at family gatherings, which is very hard for young girls to see. I know better now, but I remember believing that every one of my friends had a better dad, and somehow I’d drawn the short straw in the Dad lottery.

Now that I’m older and understand how life can take you in its jaws and shake you like a mad dog, I have more sympathy for my dad. I can see that he was lonely, depressed, shy, and unable to control his demons. I can see, from this older perspective, that no matter how you try to disentangle yourself from family craziness, it is always with you; always there, just below the surface. You might learn to live with it, or work around it, but it never goes away. It’s just there, like your eye color or your fat ankles.

My dad died of cancer that had invaded his body so completely that his doctor didn’t even know where it started; only that it was so invasive that there was nothing much to do but keep him on morphine until he drew his last breath. My sisters and I were in his room when he died. It was an agonizing and amazing experience.

The grown up me misses my dad a lot. I wish I could talk to him about his life and about my childhood. I wish I knew him better. I wish I’d been kinder. I wish more than that that he had been kinder, both to himself and to his kids, who feared him and needed him. He did the “head of household” things he had to do, but he failed in the Dad department. He left me confused about my role in life; about men, about becoming a solid citizen. I wish he’d been stronger. I wish I’d been stronger.

That is all I want to say about him for now. Later I may think of some of the funnier things he did, or some of the agony he went through during his life, but for now this is enough. My Father’s Day tribute of sorts; the one I think he deserves.

My four sisters may disagree with this assessment. But they have their own stories to tell. This one is mine.

Lentils For A Cold Day.


It may be spring where you live, but in my little chunk of Minnesota, it’s cold. It’s rainy and cold and you kinda want to turn the heat on, but you don’t want to pay a big utility bill next month, so you don’t. My remedy is to dress warmly at home, put an extra blanket back on the bed, and luxuriate in hot baths with bubbles and candles, my toe always on the hot water tap.

It rained all day today. It rained yesterday. Last Tuesday it poured all day, and I had to run two errands in the middle of the day, so sat at my desk looking and feeling like a drenched poodle. I may have been shivering. All I wanted in the whole world was to go home, get out of damp clothes, and take a hot bath.

When I got home, of course, no water came out of the tap. Two water mains had burst; one on either side of my house. There was no hot water until 9:00 that evening. I sulked and crabbed.

So tonight I’ve been lucky enough to have hot running water, and as I was taking a bath I thought about this fabulous recipe that I was saving for fall. Well, I’m not waiting another day. I’m going to the store to buy all these ingredients and tomorrow I’m having Lentil Stew, or Lentil Soup, or whatever this is called.

The first time I tried this recipe, I remember asking myself, “What kind of food have you been eating?” This is spicy and zingy and your taste buds will stand up and dance. It’s just that good. And if you like to putter around in the kitchen like I do, this recipe is for you! It makes a lot, but hell: You’ve got a freezer.

Spicy Lentils (I just made that title up. My recipe just says “lentils,” but it needs a better name.

4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

10 cloves garlic

1 tsp red pepper flakes

1 large onion

1 Tbsp cumin

1 pound dried lentils, rinsed and sorted (meaning pick out the clunkers)

1 quart vegetable stock (I use chicken stock)

1 29-oz can stewed tomatoes or tomatoes with green chiles

Juice  and zest of 1 lemon

2 cups chopped cilantro

salt & pepper to taste (as if you’d need it)

In a heavy bottomed 4 quart pan (I use my Dutch oven for this) place the olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and cumin. Slowly heat over medium heat until the garlic is fragrant. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. Bring the heat up a little and stir the onions just until they begin to cook. Add the lentils and stock. Bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to simmer and cover for about half an hour or until the lentils are tender. Add or water or more stock if needed. When the lentils are tender, cooke a few more minutes and then add the tomatoes and bring the mixture back to a boil, uncovered, for about 15 minutes. Just before serving, stir in the cilantro, lemon juice and zest, and salt and pepper to taste.

You can serve this over basmati or brown rice, but I never do. I serve it with some crusty French or Italian bread, and I feel pretty lucky to have it.


A Wedding In The Family


My youngest sister got married this afternoon.

Though we shared a dad but had different mothers, I am in fact old enough to be Krista’s mother, so we didn’t always have a lot in common. We never lived together or saw each other more than at family get togethers, and as life often works, we moved in different circles.

But over the past few years we renewed our relationship through letters, cards and emails, and so I was thrilled to hear she was getting married. I’d met Davin once before when they were in town for a visit. He is an affable fellow, funny and smart, and they seemed happy together. What’s not to like?

So my other sisters and I gave up our usual Saturday lunch routine (“The Sisters Lunches,” I call them, but that’s a whole other story) and met at the church to see Krista and Davin wed.

Here’s what’s so charming about the whole thing: It was a very simple but lovely wedding. Not the huge Princess Di wedding with 47 attendants and fainting spells, but a simple service and a simple reception with family and friends. Meaningful, un-fussy and fun. I saw some cousins I hadn’t seen in years (and did not recognize at first) and some of my step-mother’s relatives that I also hadn’t seen in years. And of course my step-mother, who lives across town and who has some health issues the currently keep her at home, so I don’t see her very often, either.

People always say brides are radiant, and I guess they are, but I was trying to find a different word to use here. I can’t. Krista looked radiant. She gave off a kind of happy glow. It was great to see it. Davin looked a little radiant, too, though he may not appreciate that description. I can’t help it. They both looked happy. Maybe that’s the word I needed.

The bride wore a simple but elegant beaded white dress. She had one attendant (whose purple jacket I coveted) and two darling little flower girls who marched down the aisle but then decided to grab a pew for themselves at the last minute. The purple-jacketed attendant was also the baker of the beautiful wedding cake (with a great chocolate/almond filling) and after we all commented on the mother-of-the-bride’s fabulous haircut, we discovered the hairdresser was sitting at the table behind us. It was that kind of reception. You either knew or met everyone in the room in just a few minutes.

During lunch in the church, a deer walked past one of the windows, apparently accustomed to wedding parties. After photographs and food and a slice of wedding cake, we were on our way. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon, all things considered.

Will the happy couple be cruising to the Bahamas or sightseeing at Niagara Falls? No, they will not. They are honeymooning in Ely (MN) where they plan to visit the Bear Center and do some fishing.

I love it.

So, Krista and Davin, I hope your new life is filled with much love and lots of small meaningful ceremonies to remind you of the great fortune of having family and friends.

And I hope the fish are always biting!