It’s just a simple cake.
Any fool can make it
except your aunt, I
gave her the recipe
but she never got it right.
From My Mother Gives me her recipe, by Marge Piercy
There is a Fawlty Towers episode in which an American guest orders a Waldorf Salad in the hotel dining room, but Basil had no idea what a Waldorf Salad is. And I thought, my dad could tell you how to make one because he made the best Waldorf Salad I ever tasted. He was a good cook who could make many delicious dishes, but that salad was my favorite.
I almost enjoyed watching him make it a much as I enjoyed eating it. Dad was six feet tall and had very distinctive hands with long yet thick fingers, not made for dexterity. He did everything precisely. So watching him dice each apple into uniform pieces was like watching a meticulous surgeon at work. I was in awe. The walnuts were always halved, then quartered, not minced. He didn’t want them to lose their crunch, the same with the celery. He chopped the stalks with a rapid-fire motion. Next came the grapes, each purple grape sliced precisely in half through its shiny skin. I believe if those halves could have been measured, they would have been exactly the same size, not even a millimeter off. Which is pretty amazing for a guy with a glass eye and no depth perception. He mixed it all together with Hellman’s mayonnaise. It was a delicious work of art. When I got married the second time I had him make Waldorf Salad for the wedding. And honestly, I was more excited about the salad than the marriage. That should have been a clue about the probable success of that relationship.
I remember lolling about on the couch as a child watching him put the finishing touches on our Christmas tree. It was his job to hang the tinsel, which in those days were made of foil and tore easily when you tried to take them off their cardboard spindle. Dad bit his nails, so watching him try to separate each strand was torture, but he never lost his cool. Each icicle had to be hung evenly, again, surgical precision. It took a long time, but I loved watching him do it. He was focused yet serene. As an adult I think of him trimming the tree and know the true meaning of a labor of love.
Rebekah Spivey for The Poplar Grove Muse