by Ray Tetz—
This afternoon we headed over to our local international grocery store, and for a few minutes I was my father—for whom a trip through the produce section of any kind of specialty market was a grand adventure.
I sauntered past the prepackaged stuff disdainfully, heading straight for the bins of vegetables and fruit that required a hand and eye well trained in their selection, and I got down to business.
We got some of those little Persian cucumbers that make great pickles but are also delicious to eat out of hand. Some local beefsteak tomatoes that will be too ripe to sell tomorrow. What they call “champagne” grapes that just look to me like the seedless grapes left on the vine behind the first picking. They are sweet beyond description. There were fleshy purple plums—soft but not too soft—and some sort of hybrid between a plum and an apricot that is just the sort of thing that would get my dad thinking about how to add a tree to his yard.
Since tomorrow marks the 16th anniversary of his passing, it’s been close to 20 years since I walked around a farmers’ market or produce department with my dad. You say that you’ll never forget all these little moments, but of course you do. At least, the way you remember changes— some moments become more memorable, even as whole years are all but forgotten. But I can still see him amidst the veggies, trading remarks with an old Asian woman who was skeptical about the quality of the cabbage, or helping a confused-looking new husband with a grocery list pick out some apples.
Driving home, I thought of how he would have riffled through the bags before he settled in behind the wheel, looking for something to taste test on the way. No doubt he would have selected the smallest of the cucumbers. After biting into it with a crack, he would offer it around the car in case any of us were so inclined.
Now I’m roasting garlic in the oven, and tonight for dinner we’ll carefully slice the Iranian flatbread we bought for no other reason than it looked like something Dad would’ve liked. We will layer it with French feta, thick slices of those fresh tomatoes, what’s left of the cucumbers, cloves of well-baked garlic mashed up into a pungent, earthy spread, with just a little salt. There’ll be some basil picked at the very last moment from the garden, and seconds on our favorites.
There will be some differences in how we do dinner. Instead of heavy sour cream, I’ll probably settle for some olive oil or maybe a bit of Japanese mayo. And we will likely sit down at the table and eat from a plate with a knife and fork, whereas he would feel most at home eating his supper standing over the sink, so if the juice from the tomato dribbled down his arms he could quickly wash up before going back for round two.
The last photo I have of my father shows him standing in the kitchen, looking for all the world as if he would be there whenever I wanted to find him. It was the day after his birthday, and we were all hoping against hope the treatments would work. We were all trying to say all the right things and do the right things and pretend that it was all just a drill. But it wasn’t.
He had looked up from packing a box of stuff from his own garden that he wanted us to take with us—even though he knew we were getting on a plane. How could we say no? They were his gifts, offered up by his own hand, as fresh and precious as the day itself. A feast.
Ray Tetz is the director of communication and community engagement for the Pacific Union Conference.