My sister recently offered me a gift of an item that I thought did not exist. I thought I was the only one to possess the cherished black iron pots that our Dad used in his restaurant. She had something that to me was the most direct connection to him, and to the days I spent with him in the restaurant.
She gave me a large cast iron pot, a number 12. I needed to know what size it was because I have one that’s a 10, but this one’s bigger. I carefully scratched around on the edges of the bottom, not wanting to remove the years of cooked crust that protected the metal, and the one thing that gives these pots it’s identity and character. I drug the sharp point of my pocket knife around until I felt a slight snag and then another. I knew it had to be two numbers side by side. Carefully, I scratched in that area until I uncovered a 1. Then, moving over slightly, I found the number 2 stamped there as well. So what I have is a number 12, well used, cast iron pot that came from my Father’s restaurant that I helped build in the summer of 1964.
Memories of that summer rolled out like a giant circus tent unfolding. It was the summer of a confrontation between my Father and a captain in the Louisiana State Police at a civil rights march. My Father had a shotgun, the trooper had a gang of drunk marchers. It was the summer of drinking and learning about the effects of alcohol. I totaled my Dad’s car while trying to negotiate a tight S curve along the lake bank. The car skidded off the road, rolled down a steep embankment, curled around a large cypress tree, ejecting me, unhurt. At the breakfast table the next morning I was informed I would be spending my senior year of high school at an all boys Catholic boarding school, four-hundred miles away, outside of New Orleans, run by the Jesuits.
It was the summer of swimming, boating, skiing, running the levies, shooting guns at the rivers edge, driving thirty miles every night to date “new” girls from another town. The summer of many firsts.
It was the summer of Sandra. She came into the restaurant, bought liquor, asked directions, and taught anatomy.
It was the summer of running food and whiskey across the state line into a dry Arkansas county. When stopped by an Arkansas trooper, I replied to his questions about who I was. When I told him my Dad’s name he barked at me never to do this again. Tell your Dad, he started to say, then abruptly changed his tact and said he’d have a talk with my Dad next week, when he was having lunch in the restaurant.
It was the summer of tending the smoker. Learning to cook. Managing the store when Dad was away. Accepting the risks of poor decisions. When Dad was about eighty years old he told me that he had known all those years that I had stolen whiskey from the store to give to my friends. I was married, had a family, in my thirties, and ashamed.
It was the summer of fist fights, girls in bikinis, drag races, Vietnam, draft numbers, civil rights marches, and fingers getting chopped off.
All this because my sister gave me an old, encrusted, black-iron #12 pot. It was a wonderful gift.