Father's Day is coming up on June 20. Skip the ties. Instead, stir up a batch of fun and food to build happy memories.
My father, Fred J. Flagler Jr., died Aug. 25 at age 83. As I head toward my first Father's Day without my daddy, it's the memories that keep me from being sad:
I can't pass by peanut brittle or pistachios without thinking of my father. Or oatmeal creme pies, even though they've gotten smaller over the years for sure. Nehi Grape, Orange Crush, Dr. Pepper. Yes, my dad had a sweet tooth. Lollipops poked into his little homemade wooden Christmas tree for his grandkids. A "people feeder" filled with M&Ms for his newspaper staff.
His food legacy among his six kids and grandkids: Stacks of pancakes dripping with syrup and thick chocolate milkshakes. Church groups clamored for his homemade vanilla ice cream. The secret to the extra-goodness of all three: Richness. Whipping cream, at times, or half-and-half, whole milk or maybe 2 percent. But never "blue water," as he called skim milk.
His next meal -- the time, the menu, who would be there -- became an obsession. When he moved into a retirement home, the 5 p.m. dinner hour suited him well. It was set, and early. There was a menu to check off, a staff to wait on him, and the same three friends to sit with.
My dad was known around Winston-Salem, N.C., where he lived with my mother for 50 years, for his work as managing editor of the Winston-Salem Journal and later The Sentinel. But even years after he retired in 1991, and until his dying days, friends and acquaintances still thought he had enough sway to keep the local newspaper from dropping a comic strip, arriving late in the morning, or shipping out a too-inky paper with creases.
My father, sometimes sweet, sometimes crusty, was forever a newshound and wordsmith. Lord help you if you used the phrase, "you know." He would either counter with, "No, I don't know." Or count how many times you had said "you know" within a minute, and not listen to anything else.
Food metaphors laced his language with memorable catch phrases. When he told tales of pushing for publication of a story about race riots in Winston-Salem in the 1960s, he recalled: "Those newspapers sold like hotcakes." He told a columnist upon his retirement: "The thing that's been fascinating is you're not trying to put out the same box of cookies every day." A basketball player was a "tall drink of water."
We also consulted nearly daily about the Jumble in the newspaper. If either of us got stuck, we'd call and give hints. One of the last things we did together was unscramble the word puzzle together as we waited to see an oncologist a few days before he died.
One great shared love in our family had nothing to do with food: Carolina basketball. My parents, three of my five siblings and I are Tar Heel alums. Piled into his room at his retirement home, my dad, one of my brothers and I watched the Tar Heels run over the Michigan State Spartans to win the 2009 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship. I'd scream and he'd tell me to hush.
I'd jump around over a 3-pointer from downtown, and he'd tell me to be still. Before each basketball game, he'd call or e-mail with the opponent and TV time. And after the game, we'd consult. I keep telling myself it was better that he had "checked out," as he called death, after a championship and before the Tar Heels' disastrous 2010 season.
Reach Betsy Flagler at firstname.lastname@example.org.