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Donn King


10 Little Things My Dad Used to Do That I Miss


My dad holding me days after my birth.

We take things for granted. We don't even realize that some of the things our parents to may be odd, because we grow up with them, just as fish don't notice water. Dad died over 20 years ago, but I still miss him, and I've come to realize there were a lot of little things he did a bit differently than most people. Here are a few. Note: several are food-related.

    1. He broke spaghetti up into little pieces when cooking it.

    We're not talking about just breaking it in half to make it fit the pan. He broke the strands up into maybe inch-long pieces. You could eat his spaghetti with a spoon.

    2. If he ordered spaghetti at a restaurant, he used a knife and fork to cut it up really fine.

    No twirling spaghetti onto a fork for him. Scoop it up. I think he could eat faster that way.

    3. He mixed just about everything on his plate together. No matter what he was served, he ate stew.

    My mother's family would keep everything a little separate on the plate and arrange it just so. They would sit around and admire what a pretty plate of food it was before carefully cutting up what needed it and politely using the correct fork. Dad's family piled the food on indiscriminately and scooped up big forkfuls with no attempt to balance out portions. I guess they figured it was all going to wind up in the same place. This was a family trait intensified by his POW experience (which I'll talk about later).

    4. He chewed with his whole face.

    I don't know why, but he didn't just chew with his teeth. He closed his eyes, worked his eyebrows up and down, and I swear he even wiggled his ears. I think he frightened people at other tables in a restaurant.

    5. He didn't talk while eating. He just focused.

    His family was like this, too. Active conversation while getting food onto the table from the kitchen or while dishing it up, but once the actual eating started all conversation ceased until the meal was finished—with gusto, I might add.

    6. He always completely cleaned his plate. And everyone else's.

    I don't remember this so much as a family trait. Rather, he acquired this after nearly starving to death as a POW in World War II. He always said he had it easier than his fellow POWs imprisoned in the Pacific, but thousands of his fellow prisoners died in the European theater of operations. I remember attending a meeting of American X-POWs with him, held at a buffet restaurant. At the end of the evening, there was not a scrap of food left on any plate in the room. Those people could not stand for a single bit of food to go to waste. If I left food on my plate at a restaurant, he felt compelled to eat it.

    7. He walked about six miles every day, and then went out and ran five miles.

    Dad was a letter carrier in our small town. He retired in the mid-1970s. In the early days, he left the post office on foot and walked his entire route carrying a heavy leather bag on his shoulder. Later, he had various vehicles for carrying the day's mail, but he still needed to part on a block and walk the entire route to make the actual deliveries. When he finished, he would drive out to the industrial park and jog all the way around it. He was never happy being still.

    8. He came home for lunch every day, and lay down in the floor.

    We lived on his mail route, and so he timed the deliveries such that he would wind up at our house at about noon. He would eat quickly, and then lay down flat on his back in the living room and close his eyes until time to go back to work. I don't think he actually napped. It was probably closer to what we know today as meditation, but that's not a concept he ever knew. I think it gave him his equanimity, though, whether he knew the label or not.

    9. He never said a disparaging thing about anyone.

    I literally cannot remember him ever saying a bad thing about anyone. Never. He was one of the calmest people I ever knew, which apparently stands in contrast to his personality when he was younger. I heard about the time when he bit a pop fly in the minor league baseball team in which he played in the 1950s. He became so angry he punched home plate and broke his hand. Another time he ran his mail delivery car off in a ditch (at that time, he carried a rural route). Rather than arrange to have it towed out, he got a tire tool from the trunk and beat the car with it. Maybe it was that meditation thing. Maybe it was the hours and hours of running. In any case, his equanimity extended to his tolerance for other people.

    10. He didn't talk much, but he laughed long and deep.

    I didn't learn much of his story until he was in his 80s and the protective shell began to crack. But long before that, he showed a love for laughter. I still cherish the faded memories of watching Laurel and Hardy in the TV with him and reveling in his laughter. Sometimes I would say something that got him started laughing, and he couldn't stop until he was exhausted from laughing. In a lot of ways, he brought his body home from World War II, but he left a piece of his soul over there. I love it that through laughter he found some healing and some connection with every day life. God rest his soul.

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