A Cooking Lesson From My Dad
My dad taught me many valuable lessons in life. From how to ride a bike, drive a stick shift, and throw a slider, to the more invaluable counsels only a father could pass on to a son, such as how to cautiously and correctly mow the lawn without dicing off my big toe like a neighbor of ours, Tammy, just down the street.
When, on May 21, 2009, my dad lost his two-month battle with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML), succumbing to a bacterial superbug that crept into his body overnight, his passing brought great sadness. So, too, drew closer to heart memories and reflections of the lighter side of his life. Perhaps the greatest lesson my dad ever taught me was a lesson he never taught me at all: how to cook.
To fry an egg, essentially you need but five basic ingredients and utensils found in nearly any and every kitchen across America: (1) Butter or nonstick cooking spray, (2) a frying pan, (3) spatula, (4) stove, and lastly, (5) eggs.
To complete the process is a simple task. Set the burner to medium, toss 1 ½ teaspoons of butter into an 8-inch frying pan, let the skillet reach its heating point, crack an egg or two on the side, drop the eggs into the pan, and in 3-or-4 minutes, lo! there it is, a fried egg for breakfast.
Let’s face it, who can’t fry an egg?
My dad. That’s who.
As friends and family gathered at our house following my dad’s death, my mother began revisiting this story from many years ago.
“Wayne Pillow,” she said, “was no cook and never professed to be.”
As the story goes, early in the summer of 1982, when my mom wasn’t home, my dad’s hunter-gatherer instincts beckoned. Paternal intuition came in the cry of a hungry child. Daddy’s idea seemed paltry enough, a crackerjack undertaking in simplicity: to fry my sister an egg for breakfast.
Jennifer, my older sister, was at the time only a two-and-half-year-old tot, with eating habits revolving around the food pyramid of cut up cucumbers, boiled carrots, and the like. Daddy was a grown man of 32-years-in-age, and myself, I was but a new entry into this world having been born in the fall of 1981.
Forte is defined as an “asset of special worth or utility.”
In Daddy’s daily repertoire throughout life, cooking had never been his designated forte. Changing the oil or putting a new timing belt on the cars, yes. A hammer or axe in his hand was as natural to him as breathing in and out. A spatula in his right hand and an oven mitt on his left — not quite so.
Cooking is my mom’s forte. Mama has always been the resident chef of the house, the Grill Master, the Keeper of the Oven. She absolutely loves to cook, bake, sauté, boil, roast, and broil. When Mama isn’t cooking, oftentimes she is glued to the boob tube watching others on television cook: Giada de Laurentiis, Paula Deen, and Pat and Gina Neely from Road Tasted. If someone has a show on Food Network, you can bet your bottom dollar my mom has seen it at least once and tried the recipe on for size in the Pillow household of Phenix, Virginia.
With but two of the necessary five ingredients and utensils to complete his culinary duty as a father, Daddy winged it essentially and made due with what he could find in the cabinets and shelves in the kitchen, eyeing utensils he had seen my mother use previously (apparently when making fudge brownies). My dad’s kitchen compass all the while spun wildly and disastrously out of control with misdirection.
Equipped with a metal bread pan, or jellyroll pan, as my mom refers to it, Daddy embarked in his futile attempt at nourishing my sister with the apposite banquet of protein for the ages.
Bypassing the stovetop burners, Daddy set his eyes on the oven below, cranking it up to 450 degrees while simultaneously cracking open two eggs. The egg whites and yolks spread out, running from one end of the metal baking pan to the other. Thinking himself on the right path he inserted this newfound delicacy into the hot oven.
(Technically, there is a such recipe as an oven baked egg, but I’ll go out on a limb here, a rather solid limb made of oak, and say this was definitely not my dad’s intention.)
Hours later when Mama returned home, she found her once shiny, metal baking pan resting in the sink crusted over with a thick black residue — very much like coal in texture. After hours of soaking the pan in soapy water, “to no prevail,” my mom said finishing the story with a smile, “it had to be thrown away. It was useless. It’s no wonder your sister hates fried eggs to this day!”
Growing up, I often wondered how my dad always managed to get out of cooking even a single meal. After thirty plus years of marriage to my mom and with two grown children, none of us had ever seen him make more than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a bowl of chocolate ice-cream.
As Mama revisited this story the day after he passed, I saw the answer surface rather swiftly as to how he accomplished this feat. My dad was never in his life known as Chef Wayne and for a very good reason, a reason that kept our house standing and the Phenix Volunteer Fire Department’s sirens at bay.
Yes, Daddy taught me many important lessons in life, but the greatest of all was how not to fry an egg; and for that, I say, “Thanks Dad.”
Written June 28, 2009