We’re on the road this weekend, toward Western Kansas, to Abilene, to stare at some pretty country, to fret about tornadoes, to visit the Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum. We toured Ike’s boyhood home, gawked at parlor chairs and portraits and sifters, trying to find out what makes great men great.
Here in Mrs. Eisenhower’s kitchen, you can see her dough-rising box. Every other day she made nine loaves of bread to feed six boys and their father. All of their sons, central Kansas farm boys, would succeed.
But one of them would grow up to command the Army, to win the war, to live in the White House.
I think it was the bread.
Later that day we feasted at the legendary Brookville Hotel, serving fried chicken heaven since 1915.
It was an early Father’s Day dinner, and we saluted my husband and father-in-law, both great Dads. But the piping, crunchy chicken – seemingly endless legs, thighs, breasts, wings – reminded me who was missing at the table. A holiday for fathers, and for the first time without my own, eating a not-so-often treat he adored. I pushed back the hard gulp and saw what he would see – platters worth diving into, a laughing night of gluttony, a family taking pictures, rolling eyes and passing biscuits.
Back in Dep-haired teen years, my family’s favorite takeout was Brown’s Chicken – no Brookville feast, but plenty good paired with cole slaw, hush puppies, and honey. Dad would pick up his car keys, clink, and say “want to go for a ride?” Picking up stuff with Dad meant 8-track tunes and quick, friendly questions about boys, friends, classes, boys. Eyes would roll, but I didn’t mind. Something about the car rides was pleasant, okay even in teen view, an argument-free zone with a bag of warm chicken on my lap. Dad tapped out songs on the wheel and drove with his elbows, a knee, a thumb.
My father loved corn – on the cob, in a fresh juicy heap, or creamed, as we had it here, passed around the table more than once. His stomach forbade him to eat the corn, but not to say he wanted to eat the corn. “I love corn,” he’d say, “but I can’t eat it.” A predictable three minutes later, “well…maybe this once.”
Happy Father’s Day to you and yours. Great men aren’t here just once. They go where we go, and I will snicker and cry and pass around more biscuits. All the best parts are still with us at the table.
* my father passed away December 5, 2008. Here’s the place to read more about him, and the eulogy I delivered that day.