June 20, 2011

Sometimes heroes are reckless

I am a daddy’s girl.

I could deny it, but honestly’? There’s no point. My mama’s my best friend; my dad’s my hero. This is the way of the world.

We grew up in the country, and Dad is a real DIY kind of guy – I really can’t remember a time when we actually HIRED someone to fix or build anything we needed around the house. So, when an especially hilly part of the property needed to be leveled out so grass would grow, there was no “Let’s hire a team of people who are trained to use earth-moving equipment. Dad came home one afternoon with a Bobcat on the back of a trailer, and that was that.


It's like the Smart Car of bulldozers.



I was about 8 years old, playing in the yard, watching my father happily push dirt around in this tiny bulldozer while Mom and my baby brother chilled in the house. I watched him coax the thick tires up the bumpy hill, chopping up sod and leaving dark brown earth in his wake.

Then, I heard the sound of the engine change from a low growl to a higher-pitched whine. I looked up from my “Barbie Climbs a Tree” adventure to see the Bobcat wobble, then lean, then completely tip over, with my beloved daddy trapped inside.

He landed with a crash, and I could hear nothing but the engine whining and the sound of screaming – the latter of which was coming from me.

I was absolutely positive my dad was dead.

I ran, screaming and crying, toward the house, apparently to inform my unsuspecting mother that she was now husbandless. She emerged, my baby brother on her hip, blinking and confused, as I explained that the Bobcat had crushed Daddy and OMG WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DOOOOOOOOOOOO??!!!

And…that’s where my memory of this incident abruptly ends. I’m assuming this is because my mother decided I was too hysterical to be of much use and sent me inside to recuperate while she helped my very-much-still-alive (albeit bruised) father out of the toppled machine.

What I’ll never forget, though, is that feeling of watching him tip over and the absolute certainty that that was the end of him.

And, unfortunately, I’ve had that feeling more than a few times since then.

Four times within the next 10 years, my father was involved in car accidents that, by all rights, should have killed or at least maimed him. Each time, he managed to walk away with little more than a few scratches and the occasional broken rib.

(I’m realizing that this kind of makes it sound like he’s a crazy drunk driver, or at the very least a careless one. While I know the former isn’t true, the jury’s still out on the latter – when the reasons progressed from “I fell asleep” to “A flock of geese flew in front of my windshield! No, really!” we all became a bit suspicious.)

The thought of losing him was so profoundly devastating that each time, I would have nightmares for weeks that he was suffering horrible deaths, being ripped out of my arms, crying out in my sleep until he came into my room and proved to me he was still alive.

In 2001, just a month after 9/11, he had open-heart surgery. Afterward, in his hospital room, I watched him sleeping, hooked up to 500,000 tubes and machines and monitors, and marveled at how frail he suddenly seemed.

I hated that thought. He’d survived crash after horrific crash, kidney stone surgery that nearly ripped him in half, and a quadruple-bypass was going to knock this man down?

I should have known better.

Today, at 64, he’s just as alive and vibrant as he ever was. Yes, he complains about his back a little bit more than he did 25 years ago. But he’ll still golf 18 holes, joke around with his family and carry my niece proudly through a room to show her off. He still offers advice and gives perhaps the best hugs EVER.

And he still tells me when my attitude needs adjusting. (That still kind of annoys me, Dad.)

The long and the short of it? Today, my dad is still as much of a hero to me as he was when I was a kid. He’s still one of the only people whose opinion actually matters to me. Hearing him say “Good job” or “I’m proud of you”? Still some of my finest moments in life, ever.

Dad, I know I told you about 100 times over the weekend, but allow me to say again in this public forum: I love you. You are the best dad a girl could ask for. And so many of the wonderful things in my life today started with you and the hero you’ve always been to me.

Happy Father’s Day.

And please be careful. :)

June 7, 2011

Swindled

When we moved from a Columbus suburb to what we lovingly refer to as "the boondocks," "the middle of nowhere" and "BFE," it took us a while to venture out. There isn’t much around here except your standard fast food fare and the occasional locally-owned restaurant, and this was, frankly, kind of a bummer.

But we’re not a couple who cooks much (frankly, we’re lazy), and one can only eat so many Lean Cuisines before breaking down one’s door in search of ANYTHING that hasn’t been flash-frozen. But where to go? How to keep our money in the community vs. padding the coffers of Mssrs King and McDonald?

Enter: The local greasy spoon. Every community has one. Yes, the floor is dirty. Yes, there are trophies on the wall, covered in dust, from softball championships won 20 years ago by pot-bellied, mutton-chopped locals. Yes, the menus are covered in cracked, curling plastic that’s brown around the edges.

And yes, the food is mostly fried.

{Insert Homer Simpson drool-moan here}

It took us a while, but we found our greasy, dirty, fried-food-having haven. We’d go about once a month and bask in the goodness that was their burgers, onion rings and 24/7 breakfast. The owner was a grizzled, surly old man who sported perpetual five-o’clock shadow and growled things like, “Hell, no – I hate that bitch,” when we asked him if he bought his meat from the local butcher.

It was everything we’d dreamed of and more.

Said owner, grizzled and surly as he was, took great pride in the fact that he made most of the food himself, and was forever trying to get us to eat his famed homemade desserts. “You know you want some!” he’d bark at us every time, describing his from-scratch chocolate cake and homemade pies before finally surrendering our check when we pleaded overstuffed bellies.

One Friday night, after sharing a booth with our neighbors (ambience provided by the requisite trophies and plaques from the early 90s and some novelty hot sauce bottles), the owner gave us his usual dessert song and dance routine. “Caramel apple nut pie,” he said in a voice I’m sure he thought was seductive. It wasn’t. But the description of the pie was.

“What the heck,” K and I decided. We’d split a piece of caramelly-appley goodness, warmed up just a little, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

The first bite was a revelation. Cinnamon-spiced apples, just the right amount of sweet and tart. Caramel drizzled along the top and popping up every so often in the middle of a bite. Roasted walnuts breaking up the sweetness and adding some crunch. And the crust. Oh, Angels of Pie, the crust. Buttery, light, just the right amount of crumbly.

It was a masterpiece.

We were in awe of this man, with his wild white hair and eternal scowl and, apparently, culinary genius. (True to form, when we confirmed that he made the crust itself from scratch, he said, “Honey, I do everything in this place except the customers. Heh heh heh…” Ew.)

K and I bought the rest of the pie on the spot and spent the next two weeks telling anyone who was listening that the next master pie chef was wasting away in rural Ohio, serving home fries to Nascar enthusiasts.

My best friend, B, swayed by my tales of confectionery wonderment, decided she wanted to try the homemade pie firsthand. She raved about the (admittedly amazing) burgers and onion rings, and when it was time for the pièce de resistance, she nearly melted into the scratched-up vinyl of the booth.

“This is the best pie I’ve ever had!” she exclaimed to our waitress. “Do you think I could buy the rest of the pie so I could take it to work with me? My coworkers would love this.”

The old crusty man wasn’t working that day, so there was some confusion about how much one charges for a whole pie. We waited patiently while our waitress worked it out with the cook on duty. Pretty soon, the waitress emerged from the back, holding this in her outstretched arms:



B and I looked at each other, dumbstruck.

“Wait,” I said to the waitress. “So he BUYS these pies?”

“Yep!” she said, completely clueless as to why my face was turning redder by the second. “I need to ask him where he buys these – they’re SO good, right?”

Yes. They are SO good. And apparently the only people I have to thank for that is "Chef Pièrre" and the good folks at Sara-freaking-Lee.

June 6, 2011

A very special birthday!

I met my best friend, B, about 16 years ago.

We were singing in our college select choir together, and when said choir went on tour, we just kind of...found each other.

We bonded over our love of music and the fact that we thought it was HILARIOUS to add "crack" and "hole" to the end of people's names.

(I really, really wish I was joking about that last part.)

I've written before about our friendship and what it means to me, and that bond is only growing with each passing year. I tell her often that I think of her as a sister, and that's really true: There aren't many friends who will be truly, brutally honest with you, be there for you NO MATTER WHAT -- having that in your life is a GIFT.

B is an amazing person. She's an incredible singer, a ridiculously-talented photographer and hands down one of the funniest people I've ever met. It's not an overstatement to say that being her friend has shaped my sense of humor. If I am ever funny, it's largely thanks to my friendship with her.

She's gone through a lot the past year, and I can't remember ever being so proud of her. She's a class act, a true and loyal friend, and one of my very most favorite people in the universe.

B, happy, happiest of birthdays!! I take great comfort in the fact that you are taking on year 34 just a few months ahead of me, to make sure it's safe. :) I love you absolutely to pieces, and I hope this year is your best year yet. I cannot wait to see what this sisterhood looks like in another 16 years.

Love,

Shanhole

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