Just Shelley

Mashed Potatoes

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

My Dad was an odd man. He was very macho, and his furniture was all dark and heavy and full of plaid and brass. At the same time, though, he would buy me delicate teacups for a collection he started for me when I was less than one year of age.

He ended up with bronze hunting dogs, and lamps made out of rifle butts; I ended up with cups painted with roses and cups painted with southern belles and cups with little doves on them. Being a person with simple tastes, I never had the heart to tell Dad how much I disliked this cup collection. Sometimes, when I’d have to wash the things, I would look at them and contemplate an accident in the sudsy water. Luckily, starting young, I moved around so much my Dad agreed with me that the teacup collection, and the silver, and the Belgium lace would be best with my brother–to be given to my nieces when they were adults.

Dad also bought me a hope chest when I graduated from the 8th grade, because that’s what Irish men did for their daughters when they ‘came of age’. This rather traditional view of womanhood conflicted though, with Dad’s hopes for me for college–he believed and strongly that women should be as educated as men. He even felt that women should have the same job opportunities as men, and if both the man and the woman worked in a household, the man should contribute to the housework. Being as he was born in 1910, he could be considered a man ahead of his time. However, I personally felt his exposure to the Powers women made him the man he became.

His mother, my grandmother, died when he was young during childbirth and his own father took up drinking and eventually died of the bottle. Dad and his brothers and sister were split up, to live with different family members. Dad lived with one uncle, who was a fur trapper in Canada for a time. Mostly, though, he lived with my Great-Aunt Alma, a lovely woman who treated Dad like one of her own. Good thing, too, because her own son turned out to be a jerk and a crook.

Just because Dad was enlightened didn’t make him terribly adept at cleaning. He was a slob; he really was. His garden was beautiful–he had a green thumb, though was rather obsessive about trimming the trees (me having to throw myself in front of them. more than once, to keep them from being trimmed ‘just a little more’). But inside his house, all that heavy dark furniture would collect a sheet of dust, obscuring not only the grain of the wood, but the color. Grays. I remember my Dad’s homes as always being gray. And sneezing a lot. I sneezed a lot when I visited Dad.

He was a pretty good cook, though. It was my Dad who first interested me in food, as something other than fuel. It was he that took me out for fancy dinners and taught me manners and how to fold a napkin and cut one’s meat. Of course, now we know the American way of cutting meat is considered provincial: where you cut the meat and then put the knife down, switch the fork to your right, stab the meat and put it in your mouth. You then transfer the fork back to the left, grab the knife, and continue the dinnertime ballet. How was Dad to know the British royalty don’t eat this way? That’s how he was brought up.

He fancied himself a bit of a gourmet, and it was so sweet how he would garnish his meals to add a little extra sophistication. Of course, to him, a fancy garnish was a dash of paprika so we had paprika on most of our food. Paprika on the chicken; paprika on the macaroni and cheese; paprika on the cottage cheese; and paprika on the mashed potatoes.

If there was a food that Dad loved more than anything it was mashed potatoes. Oatmeal for breakfast, mashed potatoes for dinner, and tea throughout the day, with applesauce before bed. Last year, when I stayed at my brother’s to keep an eye on Dad while the family was on holiday, he asked if we could have mashed potatoes. My brother and his wife are true gourmets and they never cook plain mashed potatoes, even without the paprika. I got the spuds, but a situation arose in the family before I could cook them.

Not long after, Dad moved out of my brother’s house and into a very pleasant retirement home. The last time I visited him there we had a lovely time. We talked for hours and walked about outside, looking at the flowers. When it was time for dinner, I walked Dad to the dining room before heading home. I noticed from the chalkboard outside the room that the cook had made mashed potatoes and pointed it out to Dad. His eyes lit up and he tossed off a quick ‘Bye, Dear’, as he made his way toward the doors leading into the kitchen.