My dad worked his way through college in some diner or café as a short order cook. Considering the number of stories he told us growing up, it’s a mystery he never told us more than that bald fact. In fact, I don’t know it’s a fact. Mom never mentioned it, and they met and courted in college. There’s no one left to ask except my siblings, and their memories differ significantly from mine. I have no reason to think he was anything but truthful, but lacking corroborating details, I only have his claim.
And my memories of his cooking.
Dad loved mornings. He arose early during the school year. I don’t know who fixed his breakfast, but he and Mom were fed and coffeed before Dad woke the next generation.
As Dad mounted the first flight of eight oak stairs to the second floor, he started bellowing, “Oh, what a bee-you-tee-full mooor-ning” in a bass rumble the neighbors could hear. The second line, “Oh, what a bee-you-tee-full daaaaay,” meant he had turned the landing and had only eight steps to the hall. For me, it meant time to burrow deeper under the covers.
Jodi occupied the room at the top of the stairs. Dad’s bellowing stopped and everyone heard Dad encouraging Jodi to rise, order breakfast, and enjoy the day. She was no happier to get out of bed than the next person, but Dad could jolly a boulder out of the road. We heard Jo’s less than enthusiastic replies without understanding the words. When I heard her door close, I knew Devon and I were next.
Dad lumbered down the hall sharing his “wonderful feeling” that everything was going his way.
Devon, two years younger then me, arose uncomplainingly and ordered his breakfast. “Do we have Cap’n Crunch?”
“No Crunch Berries. Only Crunch.”
“I’ll have that,” Devon said.
I knew avoiding the world was impossible, but I pretended to be asleep. Dad went into his version of Old MacDonald. “Old McDaniel had a farm…”
Anyone within a block knew what sorts of creatures I had on my farm. I groaned, rolled over, and pretended to awaken. “Morning already?”
“Time for breakfast. What’s your order?”
“Two eggs, scrambled and toast.” Dad already knew my order, but he asked anyway. Sometimes I had Cheerios.
After I ordered, Dad closed our door and sneaked up on Darcy and Shari. The twins were our youngest and loved having their father’s undivided attention for a couple minutes. I couldn’t hear their orders, but twin giggling and Dad’s booing laugh came through loud and clear.
Dad never wrote our orders but never got an order wrong. He ascribed that to his time as a short order cook during his college years.
We wandered downstairs after we washed and dressed. We rushed because seats bestowed status. Nearside seats meant higher status than farside seats. Positions near the head of the table bestowed higher status than positions near the foot. Mostly we wanted a quiet place to read. We owned one bookrack. The first person down got to use it. It did a poor job of holding books but a great job of conveying status.
Cereal eaters got their own bowls, boxes, and spoons. Milk and sugar were already on the table. Eggers waited for their breakfasts but rarely waited long. Singing whatever song was in his head, Dad would stride into the dining room with a plate or two, serve someone and lumber back through the swinging door to the kitchen. He did homework checks and lunch money checks and instrument checks while serving breakfast. When everyone was eating, Dad might join us for a final cup of coffee.
Mom spent serving time upstairs getting ready for school. She taught in the next town down, so she left before the rest of us. When she came downstairs, she made a final washed, homeworked, financed, and equipped check then carried her bags out the door.
We bused our dishes, boxes and silverware, collected our school necessaries and headed out whichever door we considered convenient for our individual schools.
Dad taught college, so his schedule was looser. He tidied a little and prepared for his day without five kids underfoot. No singing, laughing, or bellowing. No checking for lunch bags or unsigned permission slips. He spent some quiet time dressing in dazzling plaid pants held up by a black belt, radiant striped shirts, and outlandish space-based four-in-hand neckties.
Dad cooked great meals, but he never learned how to dress.