There are a great many things in life that I have never heard. One is the mating call of the notorious No-No Bird (I don’t think it really exists), Eddie Stubbs introducing a Herb Day portion of the Saturday Night Grand Ole Opry (I know that doesn’t exist) or Paula Deen ringing my phone asking for my latest home-spun recipe for her upcoming cookbook.
When we were raising our children, their mother used to threaten them with “I’ll make Dad cook dinner when he gets home!” and my children behaved like little baby saints. Many parents of my time would reach for a paddle to bring their children into obedience. All I had to do was reach for some cooking utensils.
I remember once my children’s mother dislocated a knee, so for a week or so Dad had to cook. My children lost weight and their school sent a counselor by just to make sure they were not being mistreated. It took me a while to catch on to that. I thought they had made some sort of scheduling mistake at the school office.
I guess I learned the fine art of cooking from my father. My father prepared the only pot of flaming water I believe I ever saw. When our chickens knew that Dad was cooking, they refused to lay eggs. His pinto beans were dry, black and burnt on one side. If he asked how you wanted something cooked, count on burnt and not edible. Yep, it was a gift, and I inherited it from my old man.
A good friend brought me a turtle he caught, cleaned, and because he knew how much I loved turtle, brought it to me. I was single, lived alone, and other than a restaurant my nutrition came from a peanut butter jar and a stale partial loaf of bread. Imagine how my heart sank when he handed me that turtle. I know I should have done the right thing and confessed that I only saw someone cook once, and had no personal knowledge of the art. But no, not me. I thanked him whole-heartedly, marched that turtle into the kitchen (really I carried him because thanks to my friend that turtle’s marching days had ended) and then I blacked out after that. I remember fast-forwarding from a crazy idea that I would attempt to cook it (or whatever you do to a turtle), to calling and begging the fire department to hurry.
As the years passed, I blew up microwave ovens trying to hard-boil an egg, and destroyed pans and other various cooking utensils trying to just keep myself from starving. One day I found the solution to my cooking woes. I got married.
I am a person who doesn’t accept defeat. I may retreat so I can live to fight another day, but I never give up. About 10 years ago my wife, excelling in bravery above and beyond the call of duty, agreed to attempt to teach me to cook. When she asked me to show her what I knew how to cook, I showed her Dad’s recipe for flaming H2O. She took me by the flame-retardant asbestos gloved hand, sat me down at the half-charred table, and showed me her collection of recipes.
She told me that if I followed each one step-by-step, not only I, but others would enjoy the outcome. And she was right. It was suddenly the Chef Boyardee of the Day household. Not only could I cook, but I could carry on a conversation with others who cook. I was so proud.
But then I discovered that I could improve upon those recipes by adding things that would enhance the taste. Oh, I don’t know, things like real butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, bacon grease and all the other things forbidden by the American Heart Association. My recipes carried the GBD label which was ordered by the local health commissioner (if you wondered, GBD stands for Good But Deadly).
The real trick I found was not in the learning to cook, but learning to cook in the manner which doesn’t kill folks.
Yes, I learned to cook, and I enjoy cooking. However, I still haven’t heard my name called out on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, and to this day I haven’t heard even one of my children ask gleefully, “What’s for dinner Dad?”
Herb Day is a longtime local radio personality and singer-musician. You can email him at [email protected] and follow his work at http://www.HerbDayVoices.com and http://www.HerbDayRadio.com.