Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Father's Day

Yesterday was Father’s Day, and for the first time ever, I decided to invite my family over and cook for them. I had my mom, dad, grandmother and aunt over to my apartment in Chicago for a home-cooked lunch. To most people, lunch wouldn’t seem like a big deal – just slap together a few turkey sandwiches and some chips and be done with it. But my grandma comes from the old school farmer mentality (although I’m not sure anyone in her family ever farmed) where lunch is the biggest meal of the day. This is apparently why she calls it dinner. To this day, I still get confused when she invites me over for dinner. Dinner is lunch. Supper is dinner. Breakfast is still breakfast.

So on top of the stress of having to prepare a full meal for relatives for the first time in my life, I also had the stinging memory of my grandmother’s question the first time I invited her over to my house when I lived in Milwaukee:

“Do you keep a clean house?”

This was her first question. Honestly. And without hesitation I answered, “Yes,” but then started to taste acid in the back of my throat as I thought about the last time I scrubbed my kitchen floor. So for the past three days I have been mopping, dusting, disinfecting, and reorganizing every inch of my apartment. Never mind the fact that my grandmother has glasses as thick as ashtrays and wouldn’t notice a dead pigeon on the floor let alone a piece of lint. I had something to prove.

With the cleaning under control, I was now left to the much more daunting task of making the meal. My father’s request was pot roast. I typically eat toast and cheese for dinner, so cooking a four pound slab of marbled beef didn’t exactly put me in my comfort zone. I googled “pot roast recipe” and found exactly 167,000 entries. After reading through dozens of recipes requiring exotic ingredients like balsamic vinegar reductions, or wine soaked figs, or potatoes, I decided to go for the old reliable recipe on the box of Lipton Onion Soup Mix.

It actually turned out quite well, and my grandmother paid me the greatest compliment a 93-year old woman can give a 33-year old single gal in the city: “Well, Jenny can get married now. She’s a good cook, and her house is so tidy.”

After lunch/dinner, I gave my dad his Father’s Day gift, which was permission to stay at my apartment and watch golf while the gals and I went to the garden shop down the street. His eyes welled up a bit as I handed him the remote.

In addition to being an excellent cook, my mother is also an amazing gardener, so she was truly in her element at the store. She also loves to chat with strangers when she’s picking out plants, and at one point, I noticed that a crowd had gathered around her. There were about six gay men following her around from plant to plant, asking her recommendations.

“Does this need full sun?”

“What do you think about these two plants together?”

“Will these come back next year?”

My mother had become an instant celebrity. And she had an answer for everything.

“The common name for this is Moses in the Pulpit. It’s a very hardy annual, and you can bring it inside as a houseplant in the winter.”

“There’s actually a bulb that forms from this plant that can be split and replanted in other areas of your garden.”

“A solution of urine mixed with paprika is the best thing I’ve found to keep the deer away from your rose bushes.”

I really didn’t need to hear that last suggestion spoken aloud, but the crowd just nodded in approval, and wanted more. She had become a pied piper of sorts. As we were leaving amidst groans of disappointment and a flurry of final questions, the lone woman in the group said to me, “You sure have a lovely family.”

I couldn’t agree more.