the most interesting man in the room

my father

My father was born on December 4, 1935, in Louisville, Kentucky. His father was a typesetter for the newspaper, and his mother finished cabinetry for television sets. Later, his mother stayed home to raise her sons. Dad’s parents were both deaf and mute, and because of this, he learned to sign before he learned to speak. My father was the first-born son, and two more boys were to follow over the next eight years. My father was a tough kid who grew up in tougher times.

In 1954, he graduated from high school. He later attended college at the University of Louisville. At some point, he moved to New York City and studied marketing at Columbia University. He might have graduated with a degree from one of these universities, or he might not have. Throughout my life, those details were never important to me. What mattered to me were his stories of living in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s.

My father loved being in love. His first marriage was as a teenager, and the relationship lasted approximately 24 hours before he and the girl had the marriage annulled. Dad never liked me counting this one, but I count it anyway. His second and third marriages didn’t last, but each resulted in a child. I’m grateful for Dad’s second marriage, because it resulted in my sister, Tina. And, if he had not been married so many times before, he probably would never have met my mother.

My father met his fourth wife, my mother, in a bar in Louisville. Dad was working at a bouncer, and my mother was having a drink with some friends. They married when he was 34 and my mother was 27. Fifteen days later, she would turn 28. My mother wore a slim, brown dress, and her father – a Methodist minister – officiated the ceremony.

My parents lived in Nashville, then New Orleans, and finally, Savannah, where I was born on a cold October day in 1972. My father was a traveling salesman at the time, and in the early 1970s, his travels took him to Columbia County, Florida. He became captivated by the crystalline waters of the natural, fresh water springs in the area. He wanted to move there, and he wanted to spend the rest of his life there. In 1974, he moved my mother and his two-year old daughter to Fort White. He never moved anywhere else again.

my father and me

That same year that we moved to Fort White, my father turned a hobby into a business. He was fascinated by stained glass, so he ordered some glass and some lead, and he set up a small studio on the front porch of his home. Later, as the business grew, he built a freestanding studio on their property, just a short walk across the yard from the house. Over time, he renovated and expanded the studio that was home of his business, Advent Glass Works, and he later added on a large woodworking shop in the back of it. He used that studio to design and build stained glass windows for churches all over the country, though mostly in the southeast.

My father did so many things in the course of his life. He was a boxer when he served in the Kentucky National Guard. He learned to fly airplanes. He was a photographer and developed his own film. He was an excellent woodworker, and he put these skills to use when he remodeled my parent’s home. He built the tables in their home, and he built my daughter’s bed. He read constantly, churning through his favorite books, including anything by Ken Follett and Louis L’Amour. He could identify any bird or tree or snake he came across, and his interest in naming living creatures was passed on to me.

My father was charming and gregarious, and he was always the most interesting man in the room. He told stories that seemed outlandish and elaborated, and maybe some were. My husband and I joked about this, about Dad’s wild stories. When my father wasn’t around to hear us, we sometimes questioned whether his stories could possibly be true. But, without fail, some third party – an old acquaintance or friend – showed up and provided details that verified that my father’s stories were, indeed, true.

In 1998, my dad became Mayor of the town he fell in love with back in the early 1970s. He had joined the town council seven years before, and he loved civic duty, so becoming Mayor was only natural for him. Over the past year, as his dementia ate away at his memories and his personality, a good friend of his who works with the town would visit regularly to give him updates and to check in with him. Last Tuesday, she visited him in the nursing home and brought him cookies. When I visited Dad last Tuesday, he remembered that she had been there. He told me they had talked about town business. He never stopped being Mayor.

In June this year, my parents would have been married 44 years. And even though their marriage was never perfect, he loved her more than anything else in this world. He called her name over and over again in that nursing home. He wanted to be with her, always.

On February 27, 2014, at 5:15am, my father died.

I miss him terribly.


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15 Responses to “getting ready for easter”

  1. Flavia — April 15, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

    Hi Merry, My family is Italian (on both sides) so big family dinners were the norm when I was growing up. Holidays and special occasions (baptisms, first holy communion, confirmation, birthdays, showers) were of course, the biggest of the family gatherings. The best tip I have to offer for any family gathering is to have multiple members of the family participate in preparing the meal so that it all doesn’t land on one person. If my parents were hosting at our family home, they would prepare the main course and maybe one or two side dishes. One of my aunts is a fabulous bread baker, so she would always bring several loves of her “feather bread”, another one of my aunts is an excellent cook all-around and she would bring side dishes and/or appetizers. My late maternal grandmother “Nonna” Liliana would bring her famous “crostata di confettura” (Jam Tart). Cooking for a gathering was truly a family affair! Alternately, if all the cooking was done at our house, the adults who knew how to cook were always helping, and that included doing the dishes before, during and after the food preparation. We’d have music playing or a sports game on the TV (watched mainly by the men!) and lots of talking and laughing going on. Having everyone contribute to a family holiday meal isn’t only a great way to get help, but it’s also a wonderful way to create lovely memories. And I believe it’s especially important for young children to see their parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents all involved in the making of a family meal, because it’s also memories in the making and sets lifelong family traditions that they will someday continue in their homes.

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — April 16th, 2011 @ 8:12 am

      Those are wonderful tips, Flavia. We do a similar thing – enlisting various family guests to bring some of the side dishes or desserts. It’s wonderful because everyone gets to feel that they contributed. And you’re right – great memories can be built from these experiences. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Barbara | VinoLuciStyle — April 15, 2011 @ 5:17 pm

    My dining room has seen far more use as a photography studio than it has seen for an eating space in the past 19 years but I still do use it for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. And yes, I go all out typically. Tablecloth, a centerpiece in keeping with the season and and usually my good Lenox china and serving pieces. Why have it if I don’t bother. My kids hate it because cleanup is a bit harder but it’s so seldom, I don’t mind washing my good crystal by hand to be able to celebrate the effort of the prepared meal with some style.

    One thing that became a family tradition my grown children look forward to even today…is this breakfast using hard boiled eggs. It began as a dish to use up eggs but we love it and it’s now a tradition even when I don’t have to boil and color eggs for their baskets:

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — April 16th, 2011 @ 8:14 am

      Barbara – I think you’re right about going all out with the china and tablecloths. It really makes the meal a truly special occasion. And I love your tradition of using hard boiled eggs for your breakfast!

  3. Aunt Darlene — April 15, 2011 @ 5:46 pm

    Always have ham. Since my cousin Terry give me at Christmas a $100 gift certificate to Honey Baked Ham, I use it at Easter. You can’t go wrong with the spiral cut ham. Amy, Karen & I decide what we will make. We always have potato salad, deviled (dressed) eggs, green bean casserole, mac & cheese. Sometimes we have marinated veggie salad, broccoli casserole, sweet potato souffle. Jason & Karen graciously host the holiday meals in their large home and the good china and crystal is used. Oh, we can’t forget about the desserts. Of course, the tradition has always been to fill MANY plastic eggs filled with candy or money. The men hid the eggs outside while we make sure there’s no peaking from the five children. Family being together is always a blessing. Of course, Easter means a lot to Christians.

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — April 16th, 2011 @ 8:15 am

      Darlene – Family is SO important, and it’s wonderful that you can all get together that day. Hope you all have a great Easter!

  4. Lana — April 15, 2011 @ 6:09 pm

    We are not believers, but we celebrate Easter in in the eastern Orthodox (Serbian) tradition, which is my heritage:)
    I color the eggs (usually in onion skins, for different shades of brown) on Good Friday, and we have an “egg war” for Sunday breakfast: the winning egg is saved, the ones that lost are eaten along with spring onions, radishes, freshly baked bread, and farmers’ cheese.
    Families exchange the eggs between each other (usually at church).
    Easter dinner is usually roasted young lamb or a piglet, with bibb lettuce dressed with a vinaigrette, spring onions and radishes, new roasted potatoes and fresh bread.
    As a finish, there is a dessert, open to choices:)
    We celebrate this holiday as the arrival of spring and the new beginning. No presents, no egg hunts (at least not traditionally – as I live in the U.S., we have hidden eggs every single year:), no jelly beans:) But a lot of beautiful eggs:)

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — April 16th, 2011 @ 8:16 am

      I love hearing about other traditions! Thanks so much for sharing, Lana. I’d love to see some of the eggs you all decorate and color with onion skins. I bet they’re gorgeous.

  5. Steph — April 15, 2011 @ 6:52 pm

    Growing up I spent most holidays at my Italian grandparents’ home, where the whole family would gather to eat, drink, talk, and eventually play cards or board games.
    Since grandma passed away 9 years ago much has changed. I met my husband and had a baby, and most holidays now are spent with his family. They are smaller affairs, but no less filled with food!
    While Thanksgiving is all about turkey and sides, Christmas about the roast, pasta and shrimp cocktail, Easter is all about ham and desserts. My Italian grandma went all out each Easter to the extent that I felt the actual dinner suffered. There was Easter bread, egg biscuits, boiled biscuits, rice pies, ricotta pies, rice and ricotta pies, and of course the Italian Easter pie.
    It is quiche-like, though grandma’s was heavier on the dried sausage and cheese, lighter on the egg. She baked it in a square Pyrex baking dish, pie crust on the bottom, lattice on top.
    My husband’s Irish mother makes a similar concoction, taught to her by her Italian MIL. The biggest difference is in the name; theirs is ‘pizzagaina’.
    Online these days I find references to ‘pizzagaina’ and ‘shadone’. Obviously something was lost in translation. With my new family, I’m hoping to resurrect these recipes with the hand-written cards in grandma’s scrawl as a guiding light.

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — April 16th, 2011 @ 8:18 am

      Steph, those traditional Italian Easter dishes sound incredible. I’m intrigued by the Easter pie. If you make it, please post about it! And you are so lucky to have your grandmother’s hand-written recipe cards. Such a treasure!

  6. Aggie — April 16, 2011 @ 10:35 am

    Easter is one of my most treasured holidays. It just brings me such happy memories. We usually spend it with my parents, grandparents and siblings…and it’s so much fun now with the kids to have an egg hunt around the house and yard. Of course we love to color our eggs, that might be one of my favorite things to do with the kids. The Easter bunny always brings us a new Disney movie each year (he knows we are trying to grow our collection). We usually have a wonderful Italian meal with my family. Over the last couple of years I’ve made the Italian Easter bread that my grandmother always made when I was young but no longer makes. I love that Easter bread. 🙂

  7. Aggie — April 16, 2011 @ 10:38 am

    PS…that is the sweetest picture ever. 🙂

  8. Gail — April 16, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

    There’s something about this time of year that makes me want to make and eat lemon desserts.
    I’ll pipe some meringue baskets or cups and bake them slowly, then fill with lemon curd. Or maybe a lemony baked pudding cake….I just know lemon looks beautiful on my good dishes.

  9. Martha — April 16, 2011 @ 4:49 pm

    We always eat holiday dinners at the dining room table, set with sterling silver flatware and flow blue china. We have a mid-afternoon dinner, as did my Eastern/Southern family growing up. All these elements set the meal apart from regular dinners and add to the memories.

  10. Pingback: tips for dressing up holiday dinners | the merry gourmet

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