Dad found the gravy in life

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Just a couple of years ago, I remember Randy Cauthron asking me a question.

Randy was, and is, the editor at The Daily Reporter in Spencer and we worked together in the Spencer newsroom. But, that day, he had a different hat on. He was president of the Hy-Noon Kiwanis -- the organization that took over the Stub's Tasty Foods building at the Clay County Fair. They were trying to line up help.

"Is Loral going to make the gravy again this year?"

For as long as I could remember, Dad's answer was "yes." He did the gravy. He did the soup. He did the chili. Whether it was Bruce Lamport, who ran the restaurant as "Stub's" for many years, or the current group of community-minded volunteers like Randy, they always made Dad feel like no one else could make that gravy like he did.

That may very well have been true. It was Dad, not Mom, who did the cooking in the family. Some people may not know that he decorated his own wedding cake, that any application he turned in would be full of restaurant experience. Even when he took on the overnight shift at Eaton Corp., he'd still give up sleep to serve soup on the other shifts if a co-worker fell on hard times and needed a fundraiser.

You could stick Dad with the hard jobs because he didn't mind the hard work. The machinery parts he lifted into a washer for nearly three decades at Eaton were especially heavy. In the days leading up to his funeral, I told person after person that I don't ever remember his hands being smooth.

And yes, someone else will have to stir those steaming liquids behind the scenes on a hot September afternoon at the Clay County Fair. A person or two has come up to me in the last few weeks and said "it's a shame he never got a chance to enjoy his retirement." Dad died sooner that he should have, they knew how hard he worked and they meant well.

But, I'll bet you anything if his feet could handle it, he'd be next to those steaming pots again this year. He'd want the extra spending money for Christmas, he'd just want something to do or he wouldn't want to let anybody down.

Whether the grandkids were two miles away, two hours away or two time zones away (all three apply), he didn't let them down either. Those years at the factory and weeks at the fair made it much easier for the Mitchells to fill up the tank and take to the road or cover the apron under a Christmas tree with boxes, bows and wrapping paper.

I wish I could give him one more story to read. The subscription he got for Father's Day will go to my mom now and I hope I've made them proud.

He's made me very proud.

In the month since he's passed away, I've come to realize more than ever that those requests for my dad weren't as much about the gravy as they were about the gravy-maker.

And to me, the hot beef sandwiches will never be the same.