My Father Ate Really Weird Things

My father was a farmer, not a foodie.

He ate and drank normal things most of the time, of course — steak a favorite, maybe a Beck’s beer. Or at night, a blackberry brandy. Or a blended Scotch like Dewar’s.

But between the margins lived very curious choices of food.

He’d eat whole cloves of garlic, raw. Munch, munch, munch. The resultant breath potent enough to punch a hole through a vampire’s breastbone and turn his heart to strongly-scented ash.

Horseradish could be grated onto anything. He’d also eat that raw, right out of the garden.

Hell, the raw garden was a good place to find him. Grazing like some kind of horse or antelope. Picking up green peppers, parsley, tomatoes, beans. Crunch crunch crunch.

If my mother made asparagus in boiling water, Dad would drink the asparagus water. A hot, tall, frothy glass of mm-mmm asparagus water. It looked like a big cup of pee. Which is, perhaps, appropriate.

You know Clamato juice? Clam Tomato juice? He’d drink that, too. Most people make dips from it, or use it in recipes. He’d drink a glass of it. Warm, cold, didn’t matter. Glug, glug, glug.

Hot peppers were always on the menu. Never seemed to bother him, either. He grew a wide variety in the garden and would occasionally go out and sample the wares by just popping them in his mouth like they were fucking Triscuits. Didn’t seem to faze him. He’d occasionally say something like, “Hot,” or, “This has good heat,” and then he’d see if I wanted a bite. And it was a trap. Always a trap. Because he’d goad you, tell you it wasn’t that bad, or maybe he’d say from the beginning that it “wasn’t hot at all,” then you’d eat it and from the first moment your tongue touched the thing it felt like someone had jabbed a sparking Stun Gun into your mouth. Alarm bells and synapses firing. And he’d laugh.

He grew these little tiny peppers — “Thai hots,” he called them. Bright red. Each no bigger than the tip of your pinky finger. He’d take two of those, break the skin with a knife (not even chopping them), then toss those two into a pot of elk chili that simmered for the rest of the day. That chili was the deadliest chili around. A turbid, blood-red brew. Delicious, admittedly — but it even got to him. Dad would sweat and snorfle and cough. And keep on eating. It was like a Szechuan hot pot had made sweet spicy love to a bowl of Tex-Mex chili. You could probably boil an elk alive in that pot.

He ate organ meat without batting an eye. Something I’ve only recently come to, myself. His favorite part of the chicken was the “gizzards,” which meant not just the gizzards but all the bird’s inner workings. Heart, liver, etc. All the little inner bits fried up in a pan with some onions and butter, maybe some old-school lard.

We’d go fishing sometimes and catch these gutter eels and one time he was like, “Hell with it,” and we put ‘em in the cooler and took them home. He went at them with a cleaver and cut them up into something resembling hunks of garden hose, or maybe something out of an H.R. Giger artwork. Then cooked them and ate them. I guess they weren’t great but they did the trick. I wouldn’t go near ‘em.

He ate a lot of fish that we caught. We had catfish at our pond that were big sonofabitches. Long as my arm, thick as my thigh. You’d throw bread into the water and there they’d come, slow like whales, mouths open wide, bread and water disappearing into that fleshy aperture. We didn’t kill or eat those fish, though. Hell, one time a great blue heron — beautiful birds, by the way — started paying visits to our pond and finding it a rather epic buffet. Spearing sunnies and bass and maybe trying for the catfish. So Dad shot it. Which was illegal at the time and, I suspect, still is. His reasoning was, “Bird was eating my fish,” and that was that.

We used to go and shoot birds sometimes — pheasants, geese, chukars — and then have to eat gingerly so you didn’t crack a tooth on the shot. That’s not weird so much, but it comes to mind so there it is.

Weird was pickled pig’s feet. He loved those. Mason jar of those looked like something out of a mad doctor’s laboratory. Fibrous hooves calling to mind a forensics scene where they discover a body in a swamp.

Food was a thing for us. We were a farming family — though by the time I was old enough to have a clue, we raised whitetail deer and that was it (and we generally didn’t eat those deer but one time we ate one and that, well, let’s just say that did not go over well). Later, elk. But farming life is hard and even though the sting of that hard life was gone from ours it still remained and so with it came that utilitarian “You eat everything,” and that meant whatever was on your plate and in your glass even if you didn’t like it. (Though that ended one day when I was forced to eat eggplant and I threw up at the table.)

Really though this isn’t about food. It’s about memory. What we take with us, what we forget. Who we become because of those things. Father’s Day will always be a reflection — like his birthday, like my son’s birthday, like Christmas, like all those days that ping the emotional radar — and it’s always interesting to see what memories float up out of that turbid blood-red brew. One memory leads to the next and the next and the next after that, feeling your way around the dark with open hands to see what you find. It’s good. Strange, but good. Someday, when I’m dead, my son will do the same thing, I hope. Piecing together those memories. Finding a thread and pulling on it until he gets to something he didn’t expect to remember. I guess that’s how we are, fathers and sons. And mothers and daughters and all of us with whatever memories we carry. Memories and stories and lost images found anew.

Happy Father’s Day, you motherfuckers.

17 comments

  • My dad’s faves are liver & onions (which mom refuses to make anymore because it stinks up the whole bloody house), and pickled pigs feet…which I also think is just wrong. I’m not seeing him for Dad’s Day but I may have to pick him up a big jar of feets later, just ’cause.

    And a very Happy Fathers’ Day to you, sir! :-D

  • It’s good to remember all of a person, not just the nice stuff as if they were cotton candy and not people. Do I remember my grandfather’s kindness to me? Yes. His desire to learn throughout his life? Yes. Do I also remember he could be the most pig headed man ever? Hell, yes. Which meant when the allies took over Italy my grandfather was told to get the farms in the North working again. He did. When he was in his 80′s and wheelchair bound he and my grandmother not only visited China he somehow browbeat college students into carrying him, chair and all, to the top of the Great Wall.
    I remember all of him.

  • Excellent tribute to your dad. Mine was into blutwurst (german blood sausage, spicy and good) and bakery danish topped with a slice of that nasty, too pink, over-processed bologna. He loved to plant flowers, fish, spend time with us, read about “the Yukon” dreaming of going one day, and he had the luck to drop dead one Monday 16 years ago so we wouldn’t have had to suffocate him if he had become an invalid. A rose he planted is blooming outside my window today. Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

  • Good post, Chuck, you’re dad sounds like a fascinating character.
    I have just got back from a camping weekend with cub scouts, for ‘Dads and their lads’. I didn’t want to go, but my son was desparate to go, so I said yes. I expected to hate it, but I loved it. Yesterday, in the camp field, in the rain (it rained a lot) having had hardly any sleep the previous night, I asked him what he thought of the weekend. He said it was ‘epic!’
    We had a fantastic time, but one memory keeps coming back to me. There was a man there with his grandson. The boy and his mother live with her parents, (the man is her dad) because the boy’s dad had died. At one point, sitting on wooden benches in a forest, all the cubs gave their dads cards thanking them for coming camping, and a present. I glanced behind me and saw the man tearfully wiping at his eyes as his grandson handed him the card.
    I don’t think I will ever forget that.

  • Happy Father’s Day!

    I can relate to the strange palate brigade…growing up, it was common to make it from the garden to the back door with maybe 2/3 of the food we’d just picked intact. (There’s something about a still-sunwarmed tomato plucked literally a minute ago and doused with a McDonald’s pepper packet seconds ago that just makes the whole day great.) …I was NOT bold enough to bite into the scotch-bonnets—he ate one, seeds and all, right there in the middle of the garden. (I could smell how hot they were, and I’m pushing my endurance with BLACK PEPPER, so yeah—big wuss calls “not it.”)

    Apparently they go well with fried pigs’ feet. I took his word for it. There would be time for experiments later, when he walked in with that case of quail…

  • I particularly like your use of “motherfucker” in the signoff of your Father’s Day post. Probably the most appropriate use of that word ever.

  • Imagine a slice of fresh bread with a topping of raw sour cream and hot bacon grease (if present). Lacking the bacon grease, dark Karo syrup would work. Eat open-faced with a fork and wide smile.

    But he couldn’t tolerate lettuce in a sandwich; silage! He would throw it to the side.

    Happy Father’s Day.

  • My dad grows the same thai peppers in his back yard, next to the house, near the orange tree, and the lemon tree, and the lime tree, and the grapefruit tree. I went out more than once to pick those things for dinner; my step-mom is Thai, you see.

    He lives in Texas. He likes to goad new guys at work into pepper eating contests. He usually wins. Something about practice.

    He used to send me a crate of grapefruit every year, before they stopped letting them mail them out of Texas. Something to do with a pest, or the mail rules, or something. So now I visit and eat as much as I can, so he can keep up with the crop. Last year, the doc told him he can’t get away with living off of fruit and rice in the summers anymore. My dad, who didn’t know what a salad was until he was 19.

  • I’m an author who travels frequently and Thailand is one of my favorite spots. Those Thai chilis are no joke. I was upstairs in a house where a friend of mine was cooking with them one day, and the moment I came to the top of the steps, I started hacking and crying. Even the smell of them was enough to put me on my back. We ate dinner that night with rolls of tissue shoved up our noses and glasses of milk by the table.

  • Shad roe. *shivers* He’d dry it out on the windowsill in the dining room for a week before frying it in used bacon grease and the smell was indescribably nasty. Something along the lines of deep-fried rotting cat food. *shivers*

    As for eating everything on your plate? If your boy turns out to be as stubborn as I was, I’d check under him for food if you don’t let the dog in the house. I ruined a pair of jeans once by sitting on a grilled cheese sandwich for an hour.

  • Pickled creamed herring, the only thing the kids wouldn’t scarf up the minute it hit the fridge. Nice dad memory-evoker. The gross food eaters…dads.

    Happy Be-lated Father’s Day, Chuck.

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