My folks in 1947
Labor Day is past, school is in session, and though you couldn’t tell it by the temperature, summer is over. Labor Day always makes me think about my dad, who passed away on Labor Day in 1967, when he was only 44. My father was a life-loving, affectionate, tremendously fun person, a man made to be a daddy. He was also quite the foodie, and if being a gourmand is genetic, that is a gene that he passed on to all four of his children.
He would try anything, the more exotic and unusual the better. And if the dish happened to gross out my mother, who was a picky eater, that made it all the more irresistible to him. He adored a good steak, lobster, oysters on the half-shell, the usual high-end eats. But he was also fond of tripe and innards of all kinds, loved to pick the giblets out of giblet gravy, loved liver smothered in onions. A true equal opportunity eater. He was always bringing home things like a box of chocolate-covered crickets, or freshly ‘harvested’ mountain oysters.
He adored anything fresh from the garden. He would eat English peas off the vine and sweet corn right off the stalk. Fortunately my mother was a talented gardener, and managed to keep him well-supplied with his drug of choice -- home grown or home-canned tomatoes.
He solemnly announced to us at the dinner table one evening that not liking tomatoes was un-Casey.
Last night I went to a salad supper, wherein the hostess supplies the greens and sides, and the guests each bring something to put in the salad. I usually choose something uncommon to bring, like hearts of palm or raisins, but I always bring tomatoes as well, when they are in season. For yesterday's event I bought some organic, local, heirloom cherry tomatoes, and while I was cleaning them I had a flashback to the summer of 1980.
I was living in Tulsa at the time. One morning I went to visit my mother, who was baby-sitting my four-year-old nephew Joe. I walked into the house to find him sitting at the table chowing down on a plateful of fresh tomatoes from grandma’s garden. He looked up at me and said, “I love ‘maters.” No “hello, Aunt Donis.” or “how’s it going?” The boy had his priorities. And never let it be said that he is un-Casey.*
*Joe is my sister’s son, so not actually surnamed Casey, but blood will tell. He is also in his mid-thirties now and two weeks ago became the father of his second child. Still loves ‘maters.