Grandpa Mac

for Hannah

Does everyone’s life revolve around food, or is it just me? Not even my relationship with my grandfather can escape being defined by the stuff.

My grandfather E. D. was a Flier, (he went by his initials because he didn’t like his name, I won’t dis his memory by sharing it with you) my Grandmother always called him by middle name, Delton, but most people called him Mac.

Mac was a gifted flier, which worked against him, because they made him an instructor instead of letting him go into combat, which is what he really wanted to do.

Grandpa’s fate mingled with mine when he met my Grandmother, Betty Jo; she was sixteen. The circumstances surrounding their courtship are cloudy. I have heard stories from the women in my family and they are all different, my Grandmother has more than one version herself.

My impression is that it was a passionate, tumultuous affair. One thing that is certain is that they married and proceeded to have many children, 7 that is. Due to the financial burden of fatherhood my grandfather abandoned his passion, flight, and sought a stable career, typewriter repair. (I can almost hear the sigh of consolation) By the time I came on the scene Grandpa was an embittered man. I say that because I believe it’s the truth, and yet I hate to say it, because this is how I remember him.

Grandpa would get up on weekend mornings and make everybody breakfast. He fried the eggs to order in the fat left from frying the bacon or sausage. His eggs were always perfect. He taught me that I like mine over easy because I like some runny yolk, but no slimy white. He toasted your bread just as your eggs were ready so that it would be hot enough to melt the butter and still be warm when you mopped up your yolks.

His hashed browns were celestial. He fried them in butter to create a crunchy golden crust on both sides, and maintain tender individual potato shreds within. They were never mushy. He made ample amounts of smoked bacon, the fat fried to the point that it crunched, yet spurt delicious fluid fat into your mouth. For sausage he preferred uncased links which he fried, evenly browned and juicy. He was generous with the meats, but plan to eat every drop of catsup you pour for you will eat what is left with a spoon, he did not abide waste.

Other than flight my grandfather had two great passions, my grandmother and onions. It is a small mercy that grandpa is gone, now that it is nearly impossible to get anything but a sweet onion. The lack of heat and pungency of onions in the 1980s, was already weighing heavily upon him. Though he did come to love Vidalia’s, even Grandpa mellowed with age.

In my grandparents’ house Grandpa did the grocery shopping. It was a rite of passage for the female grandchildren to accompany him and learn how to choose vegetables. Onions were of course the first lesson.

His favorite was Bermuda. He taught me they should be deep purple and shaped like a flying saucer, as with all vegetables, it must smell strongly of what you want it to taste like. A Spanish onion, which was his next choice for their pungency, should be round, the color of old parchment, and have a tight skin. We didn’t discuss white onions, though that is what we ate with his New Year’s Day meal of white beans and onions, for luck; which is how I began to understand food as a symbol with deeper meaning than the plate before me.

Choosing a cantaloupe was the dissertation of produce picking. It is impossible for me to eat or smell a cantaloupe without thinking of him.

First you lift the melon; it should feel heavy for its size, this means it is not dehydrated, then press the navel where it was attached to the vine, it should give; inhale deeply of the fruit at its navel, if it smells like what you want to taste, shake it, if it sounds like sloshy seeds, it is ready. Repeat until you find a melon that meets all of these qualifications. If you do not, curse the vendors, the buyer, the store, and the consumer that is willing to settle for less.

If it happens more than once make an official complaint, for this constitutes an injustice, and injustice is not to be tolerated, especially when it concerns your money, or someone that cannot defend themselves.

I learned to choose fruits and vegetables at Randall’s grocery store in Fort Dodge, Iowa. I remember it as the fancy store. The reason for this was the mounted sword fish that hung between the automatic in and out doors. I was told that Mr. Randall was so rich he could go “sport” fishing, which was somehow different from the regular fishing my Grandpa did, I gathered.

Fishing was another of my Grandpa’s passions, we was a passionate man I realize now. He had a small fishing boat when I was a child, and a favorite hobby, when he wasn’t catching fish, was terrifying anyone unwitting or brave enough to choose to water sky with him at the helm.

My grandfather had a heart attack when He was fifty years old; during his recovery he took up walking. He liked to walk at night after dinner, and would be gone for a couple of hours. A few times during that summer he took me with him. I was afraid to go the first time because he was gone so long, and I didn’t know if I could keep up. I would never have considered not going his pace or saying I was tired.

What I did not know was that he did a big loop that included the square and the Dairy queen, it was almost mid-point. We stopped and he bought me a hot fudge sundae. It was my first. It was a revelation.

It was dark and the lights were a riot of bugs, the place was buzzing with flirting teens and parents wrangling unruly kids. But for me; the whole of the world was me and my Grandpa, and the best thing on the menu.

Certainly there are other more macho ways Grandpa could be remembered, but somehow I believe he would find these memories of food, equally venerate.

I love you Grandpa.

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