Those who knew Dad best knew he had The Gift.
“There’s a reason it said ‘B.S. Walker’ on his letterhead, and not just because his name was Bernard Sanford,” one of his colleagues told me — smiling at the memory — at his funeral 10 years ago this month. “He could tell you to go to hell in such a way that you found yourself looking forward to the trip.”
Blarney, shine-ola, applesauce, banana oil, soft soap or hokum — whatever you call it, Dad had a gift for it. He had a way of making you feel good about yourself even when you and he both knew better.
Once he drove 40 miles to watch me play in a high school basketball game — only I didn’t get off the bench for the entire game. “I don’t think you missed a single shot during warm-ups,” he said.
When my voice cracked brutally during my solo in a high school production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” he insisted he hadn’t noticed (even though everyone at school had — and felt duty-bound to mention it to me). And when I came home from my first semester of college with grades that looked like a "Sesame Street" lesson on the letter D, he said
Well, OK — maybe that one isn’t such a good example. But you get the idea. Dad had The Gift. I only wish he had passed it on to his youngest son.
For example, the other night Anita went to a lot of trouble to bake some lemon bars er, lime bars er, lemon-lime bars er, some dessert for our 37th wedding anniversary. As a general rule I like lemony-limey things, but for some reason these little treats didn’t work for me. I took one bite and set the rest aside, hoping Anita wouldn’t notice — which was a little like hoping that Tom won’t notice Jerry.
“So, how’d you like the dessert?” Anita asked.
How are you supposed to dodge a direct question like that? If you tell the truth and say, “It makes my tongue hurt,” you risk wounded feelings and possible gastronomic retaliation (Spam hash, anyone?). But if you lie, not only do you have to choke down the rest of the dessert, but you will likely see this citrus tartlet on a regular basis for the rest of your life.
So I reached deep into my genetic infrastructure to come up with my best B.S.-ishness.
“After those amazing pork chops,” I started off, bravely, “even a good dessert would have ” Warning signals started flashing in my mind. “I mean, compared to that dinner, anything would seem ...” Danger! Danger! Danger! “ um, you know sort of less good ” Flaming out! Going down! “ or not you know great ”
Dad made it look so easy. Obviously, I was adopted.
In my defense, I was in unfamiliar territory. Anita is a fabulous cook, so this has only happened a few times in nearly four decades. The first time was a week into our marriage, when she surprised me with quiche for dinner (perhaps “ambushed” would be a better word). She assumed I would like it because I like eggs. She assumed wrong. When it became clear I wasn’t thrilled with the meal she got teary-eyed. I almost felt guilty enough about it to eat the quiche.
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Since then, I have rarely complained about anything Anita has cooked (and to be fair, she doesn’t complain when I create burnt offerings on the barbecue grill, either). So I wasn’t sure how she would react to my tepid response to the well, whatever they were.
But she just shrugged as she took what was left of my piece and popped it into her mouth.
“That’s OK,” she said. “I like it.”
I guess that’s what happens after 37 years together. You grow up. You get tougher. You get more secure. And you learn that sometimes it’s OK to let them eat quiche.
Whether or not you have The Gift.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr