A few Saturdays ago, my little brother Matthew sent me a photo of a sheet of golden waffles lying on a cooling rack.
I love getting these random photos from my brother because they never need an explanation and he never offers one; instead, it’s just understood that I’ll get the meaning behind them because we know each other so well.
This photo was no exception. He’d sent it not to brag about what he’d made for breakfast, but because Matthew knew that I would know he’d made them with my dad’s old waffle iron, the one that was responsible for making nearly every Saturday morning a celebration growing up.
My dad loved to be in the kitchen, though he had an interesting relationship with food. He was, by and large, an extremely picky eater. But when he liked something, he really liked it, and, often, that translated to him learning how to make an extremely superior version of it. He did this with pizza. Hamburgers. Bread sticks. Toasted tomato sandwiches. Borscht. And this strange spaghetti that he made with Campbell’s tomato soup and a brick of Velveeta cheese.
Waffles likewise fell into this category. And his waffles truly were the fluffiest, yet most flavorful, I’ve ever had. When he’d make them, he knew I didn’t even want syrup on them. And he’d overflow the batter a bit so there were these extra edge pieces, only-just-cooked baby waffles that you could rip off and eat at once, which I loved to do.
It’s only in writing this now that I realize he probably did this on purpose.
As of today, my dad has been gone for 10 years and I’m still figuring out the thousands of tiny ways he created gifts for Matthew and I.
It’s fascinating to me what grief turns into over time. Even the most prickly relationship — and my dad and I had one — can soften into the most beautiful thing.
Every year, around the beginning of July, I find myself seeing the world through his eyes, recognizing things he would like and approve of, wondering what he would say about the state of the world, and thinking about what he would say to me.
For example, I wonder what advice he’d give me about stepmotherhood and my little editing business and whether I should get my bumper fixed now or wait until the end of the pandemic. I wonder what he would think about hipsters and Netflix streaming and iTunes and Beyond Meat burgers. I wonder if he’d be wearing a mask or eschewing it.
I also find myself remembering ways that he did things. And when I do, it’s like another little gift he’s giving me. The other day, I remembered that he had an entire drawer in his fridge dedicated to only storing oranges so he could have freshly-squeezed juice every day. How beautiful is that, right? And always, always, at the back of the fridge were chocolate bars he’d bought knowing he’d give them to me when I visited, which, I realize now, I definitely, definitely did not do enough.
It’s true that you cannot fully appreciate your parent until you, too, have parented, particularly a teenager. I’m sorry that I didn’t get a chance to tell him that and to show him how much I tried to (step)parent, in some important ways, exactly like him.
But as I said before, my dad was prickly as, I’ve realized, I, too, am prickly, so maybe it wouldn’t have gone well anyway. And because there isn’t anything I can do about it either way, I’ve decided to honor him by just remembering the most beautiful parts about him.
After I acknowledged Matthew’s waffle picture, my little brother sent me this text: “Also, do you know the grills come off this thing so they can be washed? Do you remember if dad ever did that?”
I told him that I was 100 percent confident Gene Kaprowy never once washed the grills of the waffle iron, and Gene Kaprowy would have felt 100 percent confident that he was improving the quality of his waffles by not doing so.
But I also know that if I had asked for that waffle recipe, which I would have done eventually, he would have been thrilled by the request. On a piece of computer paper, he would have written it down in black ink, his handwriting looking like a line of heartbeats. At the bottom, he would have added a joke that I maybe would or maybe wouldn’t have understood. Then he would have taken an envelope, he would have dug out a stamp. And he would have mailed it to me that day.