Father’s Day 2016. Daddy Tommy when he was no more than a kid. Sons #1 and #2 are older than he was in this photo. I keep this one on my refrigerator. I love to look into his smiling eyes. I wonder what he was thinking? I don’t know where this was taken. Daddy joined the Army and left my mom and Spruce Pine around the age of 19, I think. Mama left Spruce Pine to join him in Louisiana at not quite 16 years of age.
My BFF’s house was robbed not long ago and the one thing that she wants back is a card from her dad. It accompanied a string of pearls that she was given on her wedding day. “I love you, Dad.” He was a victim of Alzheimer’s. She says it was clear that he had a great deal of difficulty writing those four words on that card. It is probably the last thing he wrote. She knows that she will never see it again, but it meant more to her than the jewelry that was taken.
I have a letter that my dad wrote back home to my Grandma Bell. I promised Mama I would take good care of it when she gave it to me last year. It is a big part of our family story. It is the only thing that I have in my dad’s handwriting. Hand-written letters are very personal and prized possessions. The postmark is 1956, the year my dad turned 20.
Although he wrote it to my grandmother, he mentions my grandfather several times. We lived next door to my grandparents for all but two of my first 18 years. My dad and grandfather did not get along very well for many of those years, as I remember it. That still makes me profoundly sad. I loved them both so very much. Parenting isn’t easy. It is the toughest job out there. Bar none. My dad was hardheaded, as we say in the South, and I am pretty sure that he bucked all of my grandfather’s advice. 20-year olds are pretty sure they know everything and that they do not need parental intervention. I wish that I could sit them both down right now and ask them all of the questions that have been swirling around in my head all these years. They will both be in my Heaven, so I know that someday I will have the chance for a heart-to-heart talk with these two men who played such a prominent role in my childhood.
Daddy’s letter ends this way–
Did he ever call Papa? I have no idea. When he was discharged from the Army, he built a house next door to my grandparents and I was born in 1958.
Daddy loved country music, watching police serial shows, gangster movies and golf on TV, the Washington Redskins, Duke basketball, eating pimiento cheese and bologna sandwiches, camping and taking his boat out on Lake James in the summer. He loved to tease me. I hated it, of course. He loved his dog Bowser, although that dog chewed through the bathroom door. He loved Kentucky Fried Chicken and we would often stop in Marion on the way to the lake to buy some to take with us. He loved my mom and his crumbcrushers, as he called us.
Life with Tommy wasn’t easy, though. He was an alcoholic. And not a funny or laid back one. Quite the opposite. It took me a long time to talk about this part of my childhood and to forgive him. I wrote a letter to him towards the end of his life and I hope that I conveyed my love and the beginning of forgiveness.
Parenting is a tough job. You want the very best for your children. You don’t want them to hurt, either physically or emotionally. However, although there are shelves and shelves of how-to books out there, parenting does not come with a fool-proof manual. It is a combination of trial and error and doing the best you can. It’s not about being perfect or making life perfect for your child. Life is tough. It’s not always fair. It’s about trying to provide for all of your children’s needs and a few of their wants. It’s about listening and admitting when you are wrong. It’s the purest form of love.
This quote is also on our refrigerator–
It has been there for 26 years. Son #1 recently used it when he spoke about his dad at his dad’s induction into our school’s Sports Hall of Fame. Hopefully, someday it will be on Son #1’s refrigerator. Hasdai Ibn Shaprut was a Spanish-Jewish physician and poet/writer (915-975 A.D.).
I found this recipe and plan to make it for the Ex-Ex and Son #1 today. Unfortunately, Son #2 can’t be here with us. Tommy Bell would have liked this sandwich, I’m sure.
Patty Melt Sandwich
from Leite’s Culinaria
Makes 4 sandwiches (you know your eaters, though, and how much they eat, so adjust quantities, if necessary!)
For the onions:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 medium Vidalia onions
- 3 pinches salt
- 1/4 cup white wine (SB note: I didn’t have any white so I used rosé!)
- 1 tablespoon salted butter
For the patty melt:
- Cooking oil
- 1 pound ground beef
- 8 to 10 slices crusty bakery bread (if you want to make a traditional patty melt, rye bread); SB note: I used potato hamburger rolls, flattened
- Sliced American cheese
1. Preheat a skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil.
2. Slice the onions into fairly thin rings or half rings and add them to the skillet, stirring to coat with oil and continuing to stir around until onions become limp, about 7 minutes.
3. Add salt and stir.
4. Add the wine and raise heat to high for 1 minute, stirring constantly until liquid evaporates, then return to medium, add butter and stir until melted.
5. Cook, stirring the onions in the pan frequently for another 15 minutes or until they are nicely golden brown. [Leite’s Note: Just to be clear, the onions are not going to be caramelized after this short amount of time. And that’s okay. Although if you really want caramelized onions, be our guest and let them cook at least another 30 minutes or so.) Remove the pan from the heat.
Make the patty melt
6. Preheat another skillet over medium heat and add cooking oil to coat the surface.
7. Make 4 balls of ground beef.
8. When the skillet with the oil gets hot, place the balls of beef into the pan, one or two at a time. Season with salt and mash them flat with a spatula so that each patty is just smaller than the slice of bread. Cook the patties, without touching them, for 3 to 5 minutes. Flip them and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more for medium-rare, more for medium or well-done. Place the burgers on a wire rack placed over a plate.
9. Heat skillet to medium heat. Butter 1 side of each slice of bread. Place 1 slice of bread in the skillet, butter side down. Add a slice of cheese on top of the bread, followed by a cooked patty, some of the onions, followed by another slice of cheese and a second slice of bread, butter side up. Cook for 2 1/2 minutes. Keep an eye on the sandwich so that the bread doesn’t burn. Then flip the sandwich and cook for 1 minute more. Using a spatula, remove the sandwich from the skillet and place it it on a plate. Repeat with the remaining patties, buttered bread, cheese, and onions. Serve hot.
Bon appétit and Happy Father’s Day to all!