My Dad was a great guy.
According to the picture below, he was the king. In high school, my Dad was "King of the Twist", a popular dance back in the early '60s and was also king of the school's theater department, as an actor and resident artist.
Pretty cool, yeah?
|My Dad...the king|
My Dad was born in West Virginia but moved to Southern California with his parents and younger brother when he was a teenager. He fit in pretty quickly, not with the popular crowd or the jocks but with the creative types, the artists, the actors, back then basically known as Beatniks, later to be called Hippies.
Even as a young guy my Dad knew he was different, which is why he fit in nicely with the "weirdos".
After high school my Dad was drafted into the Army and almost went to Vietnam. According to him, he was so bad at driving Jeeps and throwing grenades that they decided to pardon him and send him back home.
If you knew my Dad, I can't picture him driving military vehicles or tossing bombs at people either. He was a real loving and peaceful sort, the total opposite of what was going on overseas at the time.
|Early acting shenanigans|
After the Army, my Dad ended up moving to the central coast of California, winding up in a (then) quaint little beach town called Carmel. Nowadays it's a playground and residence for the very wealthy but in the late '60s it was still a funky coastal city filled with artists and beach bums. He fit right in.
It was around this time living around the Monterey Peninsula that my Dad began to excel at his acting and became a locally popular cartoonist and painter. He was involved with a traveling children's theater troupe and did all of the artwork on the flyers and posters for their shows.
When my Dad met my Mom, who was a very talented costume designer and maker, he knew she was the one and shortly after they were married in a small, and very 1960's, ceremony on the coast. My Dad's wedding shirt had embroidered mirrors in it. Yeah.
Not too long after, I came along.
|Dad in "A Christmas Carol"|
My parents moved back to Los Angeles to try and make it in their craft, my Mom the costume designer and my Dad the actor/artist, but just ended up getting divorced. I was four.
My Mom at the time was really busy with fashion school so my Dad got custody of me. He did all he could to raise me but ended up not acting as much and taking a full time job. He still liked to doodle though. That was something he never gave up on.
After I graduated elementary school, my Dad and I moved back to the central coast and ended up in a (then) agriculture city called Salinas. It was here that he got back into acting as I developed my obsession with hardcore Punk and Metal. I was a good kid but my hair, clothes and records I owned made him roll his eyes on a daily basis.
Still, we were best pals.
|My Dad, me and my Xmas Big Wheel (check the carton of smokes on the old tube TV...70's style)|
By the time I graduated high school my Dad officially came out to me as a gay man. At first I was confused and worried about what my friends would say, but I knew all along of who he was and what he was. When I got into theater school myself, surrounded by gay people and folks from all various walks of life, I totally embraced him and was proud of his lifestyle. And when he met his soon to be husband, Richard, all I wanted was for my Dad to be happy.
And he was.
Richard and my Dad had a commitment ceremony in Carmel in 1990 and then moved to Palm Springs soon after. In 2013, after the same sex marriage law passed, they were officially and legally married.
As the year progressed Richard's health diminished and in early 2014 he died from complications of Alzheimer's. My Dad was devastated, heartbroken, and when She-Ra and I went to visit him after his loss, we kind of knew what was to happen next.
My Dad died a month later, literally from a broken heart, so I immediately went back to their place in Palm Springs to start to take care of things. I ended up donating most of their stuff to local charities and selling some antiques and the car to collectors. Honestly, after all the time I had to hang out with my Dad, I only kept a few small items for myself: A painting of him as Mordred when he was in "Camelot", some vintage 3-D glasses and Hollywood memorabilia he had in storage seeing as he loved old movie posters and gimmicks, some cast iron pots and pans as Richard was a southern boy and loved to cook good down home food...as do we, so cooking with his trusted cast iron skillets meant we were keeping that tradition going.
Unexpectedly, in a fit of sadness clearing out more of their stuff, I ended up keeping just one other thing. A strange yet oddly significant item from the past that I thought was long gone.
It was my Dad's old recipe box.
|The little recipe box|
Here's the thing: My Dad kind of didn't like food.
He hated all condiments such as mustard, ketchup, relish and mayo. All of it really. Tomatoes made him barf because he couldn't get over the squishy jelly in them. "It looks like they're in the larval stage," he would say. Plus most any "exotic" or "ethnic" food made him cringe. Growing up in the 'burbs of Los Angeles, I was lucky to have all sorts of diverse friends, Black, Asian, Jewish, Mexican etc, so when I hung out at their homes or spent the night there I was treated to tastes and foods that I would otherwise never get a chance to try.
It was here that my food fanaticism began to take over.
When I tried sushi and loved it and told him about it, my Dad simply said "You don't like sushi." Or when I discovered pastrami and knew I would be in love with it for the rest of my life, he would scoff "You don't like pastrami," as he dished up another Swanson's TV dinner. On and on. It wasn't until I lit out on my own that he gave in and accepted my culinary adventurousness, especially my time working as a chef.
Which makes this small yellow recipe box such a curiosity.
|Pecos Pasta, a favorite of his to cook since it was easy, hearty and cheap|
It's always been in the house, always somewhere in the kitchen, usually on top of the fridge. I have never known a day when this square case with mushrooms etched on the sides wasn't around in his, or my, life. The fact that he kept it all these years is a flummox too. In his later years, my Dad rarely if ever cooked. I knew Richard did, but my Dad? Not so much.
Thing is, when I was flipping through the dozen or so recipes filed away, I did start to recall him cooking up dishes from the little yellow box. He often made something called Pecos Pasta, which was literally elbow macaroni covered in chili and cheese and he did like to make vasts of his spaghetti sauce, which kept my spazzy little self fed for days after hours of playing outside or skateboarding til just after dark. Just add some noodles and cheese and, blammo, you got yourself a meal.
Oh, I see it now. Cheese, some kind of sauce and pasta. That was the mainstay of recipes in that little yellow box.
|My Dad seems to be having more fun at Disneyland than I was|
Funny thing is, there really isn't much to my Dad's old recipe box. A few handwritten dishes, some cut outs from magazines, my grandmother's (his mom's) recipe for fudge and my Mom's secret recipe for her lemon cheese bars that she makes every holiday season.
On the last day of being in my Dad's house after he passed, before coming back to Tucson, I found the old recipe box hidden away in a cabinet in the kitchen. I just stood there, in the nearly empty shell of their Palm Springs bungalow, in that kitchen, staring at the object from my childhood, this old recipe box, crying. Losing one Dad and then my real Dad in less than two months? I too was devastated. But for some reason finding this little object that was a staple in our kitchens, be it in Los Angeles, Salinas, Carmel or Palm Springs, made me know he was still with me and it now has a home with us in Tucson.
It sits on the windowsill in our own little kitchen in Tucson, surrounded by my weird regrowth experiments such as green onion nubs, lettuce bulbs and such, seeing if life will grow from their scraps. I can see the little yellow recipe box every morning when I open the curtains to let the early light in. Its a simple little thing, square and very '70s with its bright color and that mushroom motif, but it makes me smile every time I see it because it reminds me of my Dad and how awesome he was, even if he was a bit frightened of food.
For that factor alone its size becomes immeasurable.
But I have yet to make his famous "Nacho Fondue". I mean, I live in Tucson, so...
Well maybe someday.
|Just some of the recipes from that funky yellow box|
Thank you Dad for trying your best to raise me and thanks for all of the food you made from that little yellow recipe box. You will be missed but now that I have it safe and in sight in our own home, I know you are always there every time I let the morning sun into our favorite room in our home:
Happy Father's Day everyone! Now go hug your Dad and make some chili. Then throw it on some pasta and top it with cheese.
It's what my Dad would want.
|That's my Dad...he was one of a kind|
Camera, Uploads and Remembering
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
Right before Father's Day, 2016