Sunday, April 29, 2007

Dad, Hot Dogs and Eggs -- and Memory

My father, who died six months ago, was not much of a cook. He didn’t have to be. In his day, that’s what wives were for and for 59 years, my mother kept him fed and satisfied – even if, in the last 10 years, much of what she set on the table came from their favorite nearby restaurants.

But Dad did have those hot dog concoctions. Now, Dad had a picky palate that ran to oysters, lobster and most of the best pasta dishes. He frequented better restaurants and didn’t mind paying top dollar for finely prepared dishes. But he was also a child of the Depression and knew his way around the canned goods aisle. He knew that filling the belly was sometimes just as important as savoring a meal. And he liked a frying pan full of hot dogs, sauerkraut and tomato sauce. Or hot dogs, leftover pasta and cheese.

Or my favorite. Sometimes for a late night snack, or a Sunday afternoon can’t-wait-for-dinner snack, he’d fill a pan with beaten eggs, toss in a few cut-up hot dogs and drop in a big handful of canned peas. He’d scramble it all up with a fork and everyone would dive in. When I was a kid, this was my idea of high cooking. I was sure there was an art to how he combined ingredients no normal mom-cook ever would.

I evolved.

Now I’m a pretty decent cook and mostly from scratch. I do many things with eggs (souffl├ęs, quiches, breakfast, salads, homemade mayonnaises), but until today I had never once combined them with hot dogs. Yet after getting home from church today, with a foot-long grocery list tacked to the fridge testifying to our unusually bare cupboards, I poured a container of Healthy Choice egg substitute into a pan and cut up a Jenny-O turkey hot dog. Trust me, if we had a can of peas around I would have plunked them in too.

It was heavenly, delicious.

Maybe it was the older gentleman I saw at church this morning, the one who was wearing the same tan, impeccably clean windbreaker I remember my father wearing last spring. Something about the way this man slowed his stride and allowed his graying wife to slide in front of him at the communion line, or the way he adjusted his band-aided eyeglasses reminded me, all too vividly, that Dad was gone. I had to look away quickly. But my father’s memory stayed with me.

Right up until the last forkful I had the eggs and hot dogs all to myself. My kids weren’t interested. They don’t know what they missed.