Dad, begrudgingly, is allowing a bit of fussing and assistance as he makes recovery from hip surgery, surrendering his preference for lack of interference and coordination. It’s given strange perspective for us all, i think. He has always loomed large and daunting both physically and intellectually, bemused by those – myself, especially – that would offer ideas as novel or useful, irritated by offer of assistance or underestimation of capability. He is obviously irritated to find himself at least somewhat and not-admittedly demobilized, and mom – additionally stressed with helping the unwilling and hectoring the same to do as has been instructed by his doctor. Sharing meals has been hopefully helpful in at least reducing mom’s fatigue, and so far, dad hasn’t demanded it stop. Mom has said he especially likes the Indian curries and dals and he hasn’t refuted it when she has, though I always get the feeling he expects anything I make to be terrible — or, terribly weird, anyway: We have mixed in a few Botswani things…
One, shared, were these butternut squash cannelloni — in butternut squash sauce! Mom was working on their meal for the evening at arrival, and dad rolled over, irritably using the walker — jabbing it around like dad does with things that irritate him. He’s since reverted to just a cane, which i think he actually doesn’t mind — gives an austere air, eh? As we talked, he worked his way around, back to the dining table and asked, “Are the beans green?”
This was a funny comment: There are — i guess they could be called memes, these days — that percolate continually through our family conversations. For example, every family gathering requires the re-telling of the time I hit my sister with a coffee can when I was not yet one. There are the tales of how I used to like to play with fire (used to?!?). And of course, everyone is always surprised that I eat tomatoes.. The bean question immediately reduced me to a pathetic little boy, shivering on a chair at the dinner table, next to the open patio door in the middle of winter.
We all, more or less, like our green beans the same way — essentially blanched. Dad will rail against the hypothetical gray and inedible beans produced by over-cooking, which, may have happened once or twice — but it was rare. We all like our beans the same way: Bright green and crunchy. In youth, I was accused of taking it to the extreme, and not really cooking them at all. I do like raw beans… If I was cooking them, dad would joke that, “They should at least be warm!” Or, “Did you even put these in a pot?”
Mom was, of course, “Yes, John, they’re nice and bright green.” Dad: Did you make sure you cooked them? Mom — changed the subject.
But sitting at that cold table of memory brought back another, a thing I never really understood that made my parents quite mad — maybe just dad, but it was certainly taboo — and that was mixing salad dressings. For whatever reason, it was considered terribly inappropriate — but i absolutely loved the taste of ranch and vinaigrette dressings, mixed. So, I sneaked them together — sometimes dropping ranch on the salad plate before putting salad on, then adding the vinaigrette, sometimes just trying to be sneaky — occasionally rebuked.
There were lots of those cannelloni — there still are, as a matter of fact. One ensuing night of leftovers we served them with beans. My bright green beans, there, barely cooked and not even warm — and in the bowl is my salad: Of greens dressed both in ranch and vinaigrette. I rarely eat ranch, anymore, but it sure tasted sweet, and next time they’re over for dinner we’re gonna have some raw green beans with tomatoes and everybody’s gettin’ cracked in the head with a coffee can, while we watch stuff burn. “Throw more in the fire bowl, kids — throw more!”