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Cheryl Hughes: Dad's Food

I’ve told you before that there wasn’t much love lost between my dad and me, for reasons I won’t rehash here, but there were things I admired about my father, as well as things that downright tickled me.  

He was a man of integrity and honesty.  I admired that.  He came from nothing, with little education, and in spite of that, he did really well with his life.  If you go back to my hometown and ask about my dad, overwhelmingly, people will say, “C.L. was a good man.”

When Dad passed away, Senator Mitch McConnell sent each of my siblings and me a note of condolence, with the handwritten comment, “He was a good man.”  And he was.  I wish we had resolved our differences before he passed away.  We didn’t, but it’s Father’s Day, and each year on this day, I make the effort to remember the things I liked about my dad.

One of the things that always stood out about my dad was the way he liked to eat, and he ate just about everything that was remotely edible, things I wouldn’t touch then, and I won’t touch now.  Dad was 6 feet tall and thin in his early life.  In later years, he packed on a few pounds, but he was never obese.  

When I was growing up, we raised and processed our own hogs.  Dad loved pork, and we had a smokehouse where he and my stepmom sugar-cured hams, wrapped them in cheesecloth, then hung them from the rafters till they were ready to be sliced up and served with eggs, redeye gravy and homemade biscuits—the gravy and biscuits Dad made himself.  He liked those biscuits just so.  If they were the least bit overly-brown he would say, “Burnt them breads!”  He had several country sayings like that.  When we processed hogs, nothing was wasted.  Dad ate hog brains with scrambled eggs, pig feet and souse, also called head cheese, because it was—you guessed it—made from the hog’s head.

At Christmas, Dad would go to R.T. Jennings country store and come home with a cardboard box full of all kinds of candy.  My stepmom would put the candy out in little glass dishes, so we could eat it while we watched TV.  I loved those times that we watched TV with Dad.  He loved comedies, and he had the most unique laugh—people in our hometown still talk about it.  Dad would eat orange slices, chocolate covered peanuts and coconut bonbons with abandon, then top off the sweets with a tangerine or an orange.  He loved citrus fruit.  One of his favorite spreads on a buttered biscuit was orange marmalade.

Dad would buy bags of mixed nuts, and we would eat those in front of the TV, as well.  We had one set of those small silver-colored nut crackers that we would have to share.  Dad could crack nuts while never taking his eyes off the TV.  We would take the nutcracker while he was caught up in something Moe was doing to Larry and Curly, and he would start feeling around in the bowl of nuts for it, then suddenly look down then up, scanning the room till his eyes fell on the kid who had it and say, “Give me back that nutcracker!”  He would laugh, and we would laugh, like it was all a game.  I loved those times.

Dad grew up poor, and the thing about what you eat when you’re poor is that the taste for those things follows you into more profitable times.  Even toward the end of his life, Dad still ate sardines, sorghum and biscuits, hominy, sawmill gravy and cornbread in a glass of milk.

I have some really good memories of my dad.  I guess, I should pay more attention to the verse in Philippians that encourages: Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and are of good report, think on these things.  I’m sure I would be a lot better off.



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