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The foil character

Back when I was in high school and working part-time at the auto parts store that my Dad managed, the owners threw a big steak dinner for the employees of all the regional stores at a nice restaurant near Martinsville. We were instructed to wear a suit and tie, and encouraged to bring a date.

I didn’t have a girlfriend at the time. After miserably awkward failures to entice several subjects of my fantasies to accompany me — I suppose in retrospect that an invitation to a fancy company function might scare off a high school girl, especially one whom I had never had the courage to speak to before — I finally secured an acceptance from Dixie. I picked her up at her house in my old Chrysler, and we drove the long highway to Martinsville while Chopin played on my 8-track.

Mom and Dad brought Roger along with them. Roger hadn’t been able to convince his girlfriend’s parents that allowing their daughter, who was a couple of years younger, to accompany him so far from home would be prudent. Perhaps had they known the favors which she had already bestowed upon him, they might have considered a nice dinner the least he could do in return.

The five of us sat around one of the big, round tables that bore all manner of condiments, an open bottle of wine, and a basket of bread in the center. The chef must have confused our menu with the one for an NFL team: a huge Porterhouse steak, baked potato wrapped in foil, vegetables, and of course a dessert designed to produce instant sucrose shock. By Franklin Auto Parts standards, it was downright elegant.

Unsurprisingly, Dad had already partaken of alcohol on the way there, but he reached for the wine and began pouring. Roger and I were each eighteen, and at this private function nobody would bother us so Dad filled our glasses. Dixie refused, so I did my best to moderate my consumption. Roger, being the fifth wheel, drank more freely in order to have something to do with his hands.

Dixie, who was always quiet anyway, didn’t have much to say in this venue either. I couldn’t tell whether she was enjoying or enduring this event. The rest of us laughed and joked while we ate our dinner. Jack Martin, one of the owners, got up and gave a humorous speech — the question of whether or not it was intended to be humorous being a regular feature of his communications. Dad continued to pour the wine, draining a third bottle. I had to refuse a time or two, but he and Roger worked at it as if they were being paid by the glass.

After we had all finished eating, Dad glanced over at Roger’s plate, which was completely clean — not a scrap of food, not a smear of butter, not even the foil from the baked potato.

“Damn!” said Dad, “You weren’t hungry, were you?”

Roger cast a sly glance in my direction, then he leaned back in his chair and patted his belly. “That was a pretty good meal,” he said, “but the best part of all was that chrome potato.”

To this day I’m unsure whether or not my father believed that Roger had really consumed the foil. Roger had crumpled it up and tossed it among the sundries in the middle of the table while Dad wasn’t looking.

Tags: autoparts, dad, memories, roger
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The Tao of do

When I was ten years old, we moved into the house that had belonged to my great-grandparents. My father and his three brothers did most of the work building this house. They left a large part of the basement unfinished, which is where my great-grandfather had his shop and my great-grandmother did her churning.

When we moved in, we were short one bedroom. Dad decided that I should build out my own room out of part of the unfinished basement, under his supervision. We began by putting in joists over blocks on the concrete floor, and then I started nailing the tongue-and-groove pine flooring over the joists. I tried to be careful not to miss the nail and scar the flooring. Nailing at an angle just above the tongue so the nail heads wouldn’t show, I kept on glancing off the nail and sending it flying across the room, or bending the nail after it was half-way in.

Dad tried to give me helpful advice while he sat on the exposed part of the joists and sipped his beer, but occasionally he couldn’t help chuckling at my frustration. I wanted so badly to do a good job on this project, and with each wasted nail or scarred plank, I felt the tears welling up in my eyes.

Finally, I lost my composure. I began blubbering uncontrollably, and at the same time in my anger I grabbed nail after nail and pounded them in as hard and fast as I could go.

They all went in perfectly.

I stopped and caught my breath and wiped my eyes. Dad was laughing so hard he had to hold his sides. “You could always do it,” he said. “You just had to get mad enough!”

I don’t know that the anger was essential, but doing without over-thinking was the key in that case.

I’ve seen that at other times. For instance, when playing pool, it’s easy to over-engineer a difficult shot. Sometimes you just need to shoot, almost without looking.

In programming, too, you can easily think yourself right out of solving the problem at all. Yet, if you take the “cowboy coding” approach all the time, you end up with an unintelligible mess.

When we do well without forethought, we are following the way.
Yet never employing forethought is not following the way.

To say that there is one true way is not the way.
Yet to say there is no true way is also not the way,
Though it may be for a while.

Tags: action, dad, intuition, memories, tao
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I’m constantly finding my new neighborhood to be a bit nicer than I had imagined. When I signed the lease, I didn’t even realize that just around the corner I can walk to a little market that has decent prices. I’m living out in the county now instead of on Bainbridge Island, and the prices show it. Most things are about 4% higher than Walmart, which isn’t bad.

My car has been in the shop ever since I moved in, so I’ve been going everywhere on foot or by public transportation. The transfer station is about a mile from my apartment and the busses leave there every hour, so with a little planning I don’t waste too much time. The bus-riding populace has an alarmingly high percentage of missing teeth, but otherwise they’re mostly good and friendly folks. Not friendly on purpose like on Bainbridge, just genuinely friendly when the need to interact arises.

I walk to the market frequently and buy just what I can carry. Early this morning I went to buy coffee and some vegetables. As I was looking over the Romaine lettuce, I suddenly noticed that they had fresh turnip greens! I hadn’t seen fresh turnip greens since I grew them myself abouit 25 years ago in the back yard. Some stores here carry them canned, but the sodium content is too high for my blood pressure.

Turnip greens are my favorite vegetable. I couldn’t stand them when I was a small child, but between the ages of 10 and 13 my tastes shifted dramatically. Perhaps I had finally overdosed on sugar, but I acquired a taste for many foods that I had detested earlier: olives, butterbeans, squash, and turnip greens. I like them with ketchup, but when my grandmother served them with vinegar and onions that wasn’t bad either.

My father told the story of when his father was a young man, back in the early 1930s. Although my grandfather, his father, my father, me, and my first son are all named Sterling Wyatt Camden, we’ve all gone by different names at different times to keep it all straight. My grandfather went by Sterling, and his father was known as Wyatt. Wyatt had bought a WWI surplus Jenny in a crate for Sterling to go barnstorming. On one such journey around the country, Sterling had been repairing his Jenny while standing on some old crates to reach the engine. The crates slipped, Sterling fell, and slit his wrist on the cowling of the Jenny. The wound, not helped by his poor barnstorming diet, nearly bled him to death. But he survived, and made his way back home to recuperate.

On his first evening back at home, Sterling sat at the big diningroom table, while his mother prepared for dinner. She came from the kitchen with a large serving bowl full of turnip greens and set them on the table, then returned to the kitchen to get something else. Sterling had never liked turnip greens, but when she returned they were all gone. Apparently, his body cried out irresistibly for the iron and Vitamin K.

Tonight, I washed the greens and put them in a big pot full of water. I sliced up some bacon and onions and added them to the water. Just as it was beginning to smell wonderful, I remembered: I need ketchup! So, I turned the greens down low and got ready to walk back to the store.

When I opened my front door, I found that the postman had left a package outside. I took it inside and opened it, and what do you suppose it contained? Honey buns! My good friend Justin James had read my earlier post, and shipped them all the way from South Carolina. I sat down and ate one right away. It tasted just as good — maybe better — than when I was a kid. Thanks, Justin!

Tags: dad, honeybun, justinjames, memories, turnipgreens
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No recipe

The lady at the store had warned me. That big bunch of turnip greens I bought cooked down to only enough for two servings. But what should I do with all this wonderful pot liquor, filled with scraps of turnip greens, bacon, and onions? I know! It’s time for some No Recipe Stew.

That’s perfect for Father’s Day, because my father taught me how to make it. It’s not too difficult, you just throw everything you can think of consuming into the pot and cook it a good long while. That’s why it’s called “No recipe.”

I browned some ground beef, along with more onions, garlic, and jalapeno peppers, then I threw that into the pot, along with some diced turnips, carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, and romaine lettuce. I brought this to a boil then turned it down and added spices (just about every spice in the rack). I’ll let that simmer for a few hours and have it for dinner.

This is my first Father’s Day alone in many a year. I’ll sit down to my stew, crack open a beer, and commune with my father who art in heaven (if there is such a place that deserves the name). If there was a recipe for him, God tore it up after he saw what he’d made. Miss you, Dad.

Tags: dad, food, memories
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