A labour of love

Helen Row Toews

Cooking for someone is a labour of love. We’ve all heard this phrase, but I hadn’t given it much thought until today when sadly, it flitted across my mind that I should make a yummy apple crumble for Dad’s supper. I love my father with all my heart. He passed away just two weeks ago and life will never be the same.

Of course, cooking for Dad wasn’t always easy, but it was a privilege to have been in charge of his evening meal for the last seven years. He liked basic food and “nothing spicy.” This sounds like a reasonable request, made by a person who perhaps doesn’t like jalapenos or hot chili, but in fact Dad was referring to things like parsley, mushrooms and in some cases even creamery fresh butter. He preferred foods to be bland and unadorned. Give the man a hunk of meat and couple of spuds and he was good to go.

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One time, early on in my tenure as his cook, I prepared a humble dinner and set it before him on the table before excusing myself to check on dessert. When I turned from the oven, he was hunkered furtively over the garbage can, skimming the top layer of his potatoes into the trash. He looked up guiltily.

“Sorry Helen, but I don’t like butter on my potatoes.”

What! Who in the world doesn’t like melted butter on mashed potatoes? My dad.

Another time I was doctoring up a hamburger for him. I knew exactly what he liked for condiments – none ‑ but he issued me directives just in case.

“Make sure you don’t put any of that fancy red stuff on it,” he said firmly.

“Would you be referring to ketchup?” I asked dryly. He was. But, who in the heck thinks of ketchup as “fancy?” My dad.

Most recently I prepared what I thought was a tempting meal: tuna melt. It was plain, simple and fish was always a favourite. Win, win, I thought foolishly, as I cut off the crusts, added the fish mixture and then browned a thick layer of cheese on top.

“What do you think,” I asked, hovering anxiously over him to await the verdict.

“It’s not bad,” he said, after chewing thoughtfully for several seconds. Dad was always polite and grateful for all the meals I made him. I knew he was trying not to tell me it was crap.

“You don’t like it do you?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, lifting a second forkful with the air of a man sentenced to life imprisonment with no chance of parole. “I’ve eaten worse things.”

I laughed. Who else would hate the food they’d been given, yet still be willing to force it down so that I wouldn’t be inconvenienced? My dad.

I took it from him, gave it to the dog, and quickly whipped up a poached egg on toast instead. Then we sat together holding hands and watching TV.

My encouragement for you today is to tell those people around you how much you love them, to spend time with them, or to cook them something special. We never know how long we may have on this good Earth. Dad was 91 years old, but the pain of losing him is not lessened by that fact. The finest man I’ll ever know will always be Les Row – my dad.


 

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