Saturday, June 18, 2016

Dads are Special

In May I wrote about my Mom, so it seems fitting to tell you a bit about my Dad around Father's Day.  He passed away in June of 2006 at age 80, but he continually lives in my heart, just as your loved ones reside in yours.

As with many Baby Boomer Dads he was competent in all things house, car and outdoor related.  He could repair the washing machine - although most of them were so well built back then they didn't often need repair.  He could fix the garbage disposal, which did break down. He gave us wise advice that we still follow today - "never add very much food to dispose!"  He built and added on a fully equipped wood shop in the garage (complete with a wood stove and air conditioner), a wonderful house addition plus numerous items - night stands that my Mom still uses, a homework desk attached to the wall in the basement bedroom that each of my siblings occupied before heading off to college.  BTW, I was the last occupant of the room and the desk is still there, solid as ever.  He brought in soil and railroad ties for my Mom's outdoor perennial garden, built her strawberry raised bed with a rolled netting system to keep the birds away, the wooden deck where my parents and family spent so many hours and much more.  And the lawn...

My Mom was in charge of the vegetable garden (except the horseradish) plus the flowers, while my Dad was in charge of mowing and fertilizing (the only two lawn jobs that mattered).  On occasion over the years he had the lawn top dressed with chicken or steer manure delivered from relatives who lived and farmed in Rapelje (sounds just like the spelling - rap el j), a small farming/ranching community outside of Billings where he grew up.  My Mom claimed that the manure was too full of weed seeds to be helpful (she was correct).  All I remember was the odoriferous smell in the backyard that seemed to bring in curious cats and inquiring nose-holding neighbors, "really, you brought in all that poop for your lawn?"  In his later years when my Dad could mow no more he enjoyed sitting on the back patio directing others (including me during visits) how to correctly start the lawn mower and what direction to mow.  No doubt all this mowing heritage has impacted me today because I insist on mowing our small area of grass and don't take kindly to an ill-mannered lawn (that's a title for a later blog for sure).

Driving into Rapelje
My Dad's grandparents homesteaded in Rapelje in the early 1900s. So his parents lived there until my Dad was high school age when they moved to town- Billings.  His dad, my grandfather, was a rural mail carrier, which in those days meant he sorted and picked up the mail in Billings and then drove and delivered to surrounding farms and ranches. His Mom, my grandmother, always from the time I knew her worked a retail job, and for many years was the dearest, most helpful clerk at the nicest children's clothing store in Billings - ABC Kiddies Shop.

Aunt Helen, Aunt Betty (standing) and Stocky in '06
My Dad's two older sisters, Helen and Betty (yes, I'm named after his sister) spoiled and doted on him while growing up and in return he kept them laughing, though other times a bit angry.  One of those times was when he burned their garage down while playing with matches.  Evidently he ran into a nearby field to avoid the flames as his parents and sisters feared he was still inside the garage.  No, he was hiding and avoiding getting in trouble, just like any six-year old.   

My Dad, (Robert George S.) was known as "Stocky," a nickname derived from our ancestral German last name.  He enlisted for military service at age seventeen, so was automatically given a graduation diploma from Billings Senior High School.  Being underage his parents signed the consent form for the Marine Corps and service in World War II.  After boot camp he was on a troop ship headed toward Okinawa and the invasion.  His ship was hit by a Japanese kamikaze and needed repair so they didn't arrive in Japan until after the battle (no doubt a good thing, which probably spared his life). He was honorably discharged in 1946 and returned to Billings and eventually met my Mom around 1948.

PFC Marine Corps 1946
My Dad was a natural born salesman who worked while wearing a cowboy hat and boots. He was best known for making friends first and a sale later. I'm proud that he was a realtor, small business owner and later successfully sold mobile homes and recreational vehicles during the tougher economic times in the 1970s and early 80s.  He loved staying in touch with Rapelje family and friends, camping with the grandchildren and playing golf, which he took up late in life. He enjoyed his coffee group of veterans and friends of veterans, where they would discuss current events and the good old days.  After my Mom retired they traveled around America, parts of Canada and spent several winters in their motor home either in Arizona or Texas. They especially loved the Texas Hill Country.  Their only overseas travel was a church organized trip to Israel that my Mom still talks about today.

While a small business owner myself, my Dad was my cheering squad of one who kept me focused on my sales career and confident of success.  I told this story at his funeral, which I'll repeat here.  He had this incredible sense of timing, understanding and humor.  So when we'd visit on the phone or in person during my Billings visits, he'd ask about my business, the customers, the companies I represented, etc.  Of course when being asked directly about life on the road I was honest, he was my Dad after all, and a good listener.  Life seemed tough for a single traveling woman, sales were slow in the early 80s (they got much better into the decade) and I wasn't selling name brands.  On and on, complaint after complaint, he'd listen without saying a word until I was completely finished with my rant and would simply say...."Hey Betty, they're having the same problems back east."  So my laugh, and "yeah, I get it Dad" attitude helped me keep it all in perspective and remain positive going forward.   

I'll wind down with some culinary comments about my Dad.  He loved homemade horseradish sauce, so years ago he planted one plant which spread extensively and continues to cover a large area in the alley.  His sauce was a hit, and many friends and neighbors looked forward to his jar of horseradish each summer.  His secret ingredient was to add a teaspoon of sugar and white salt (not black salt) to the mixture which also included white vinegar, water and of course the horseradish.   

His other culinary skills included making outstanding chili (always served on Christmas Eve) and pancakes - obviously not in the same setting.  His Rapelje pancakes, or "cakes" for short, were the best on earth.  His secret was to fold in the egg whites ever so slowly into the batter.  He started the tradition of having the family over after Sunday church for "cakes."  He'd also serve bacon and sausage, coffee or orange juice. Not exactly your breakfast for champions, but hey, it's family time - great family time!  Bring your appetite, and you'll probably eat so much you won't be hungry for dinner.  Now that Stocky is gone, my nephew Joe is carrying on the "cakes" Sunday tradition, albeit a much smaller group of family.  I'm sure my Dad would be okay with me sharing his recipe.  Try it on Father's Day or any Sunday.

Rapelje Pancakes

2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons oil (corn or grapeseed oil is fine)
2 eggs, separated, beat whites until stiff, keep yokes

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, add milk, egg yokes and oil, fold in egg whites last (slowly)

Serves 4-6, double for more family

My Dad 2004

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