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In loving memory of Clifton S. Infield (1933-2004)

I didn’t plan to write this today, and fear not—it’s not sad, sweet, or lyrical.

If I’d planned it better, I would have scanned some photos for illustrative purposes. Who wants to read a post with no pics? I know. Sorry!

If I HAD thought to scan some, I could have chosen from these, displayed from the collection of family pictures we have all around our apartment, on the walls and bookshelves:

• Mom and Dad, smiling in a cloud of confetti in 1965 on the steps of a church in Montreal

• My Dad and my brother, playing Othello by the Christmas tree in 1979

• Dad and me at the W.H.S. Sports Queen festivities (I can assure you that cobalt blue gown was the HEIGHT of Jersey mall fashion in 1986)

• Us again, wearing a Colgate sweatshirt and a maroon sweater (respectively), leaning against a scrap metal tiger at a Princeton football game. (His face is scarlet from sitting in the early October sun.)

What spurred me to write this: I’m scanning an email from EveryBlock, which lists the most recent Yelp reviews from my neighborhood, and read this one about at a local café. Just got some baklava…it was out of this world. DELICIOUS. My boyfriend has eaten almost 1/2 lb for dinner. HAHA.”

I don’t think about my Dad every time I see or eat baklava (I live in Astoria, New York, old Greek town; you can’t walk a block without seeing it somewhere). But I happened to have a few bites of one for breakfast this morning, then saw this, and it is Father’s Day… and it reminds me of the time he made baklava.

He only made it once (if you’ve ever made it at home, you know why), but it remains in my mind one of the most outstanding things he ever did.

I was off doing something the afternoon he made it, which is just as well because when my Dad was making something NO ONE ELSE WAS ALLOWED IN THE KITCHEN. If he was in there, it was a special occasion. (Unlike when my mom was in there, and you could talk to her, tell her how bored you were, bump up against her hip, stick a finger in her ear—whatever, Mom in the kitchen was no thing; Dad in the kitchen was an event.)

He’d probably read an article about it in the New York Times. Before that day the only baklava we’d tried was from the freezer of the local bakery; dry as rice paper and older than dirt. So his baklava was a revelation—moist, buttery, sweet, flaky, nutty, oh my word, it was heaven.

Apparently the actual “making of” was a bit of a sitcom. He kept pulling the dough out of the box, thinking it was wrapping material. This was in the pre-Internet, pre-Food Network era, before everyone was a “foodie.” He did it straight from the newspaper, without benefit of a how-to video.

My father also made homemade pretzels, stollen, and “elephant’s ears.” Occasionally he made stir-fry for dinner; but only after Mom had sliced and julienned all the vegetables and beef.

A few more thoughts about my Dad, not related:

• He used algebra to explain some math point to when I was, I don’t know, seven? Nine? I was having a hard time with whatever math issues are taught at that age, and he said, “OK, Tracy, look. Two is A, and zero is B. So if you blah blah blah grrrrrlbr xiy2dy yayai ai aik…”

And then he got upset when I started to cry! Years later, when I was (still) having math trouble, they hired a tutor.

• He took my brother to a Star Trek convention; I think this was around 1976. When they returned, all my brother could tell us was, “Lieutenant Uhura thinks God is a woman!”

• He never called me “Pumpkin” or “Halfpint,” or anything cute, like Laura Ingalls’s Pa did on Little House on the Prairie. When I asked my mother about this, she told me my father expressed his love by taking an interest in the things we were interested in.

• He dragged us to see this movie called Star Wars. When my mother told us Dad wanted to take us to a movie, my brother and I were confused. “Why?” “Without you?” (Oh, Dad. That one was a SCORE!)

• We never saw him cry, ever, except when we saw E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. “Mom! Dad’s CRYING!” (He denied it. Said he was “cleaning his glasses.”)

• When I was looking at colleges in 1987, he wasn’t enthusiastic about Colgate—his alma mater as well as his father’s. “It went downhill when it started admitting women,” he said. Hellllllooo?

• He wrote letters to me Colgate, several of them beginning with, “Your mother and I are not pleased…” Other times, he sent me Far Side comics. I still have the letters and a few of the comics.

• He once drove 2 hours to come pick me up in Hancock, NY, when my Tercel died. And 2 hours back, to Waldwick, NJ. My mother told me afterwards, “He had JUST come home with the Chinese food when you called, and I told him he had to go get you. He just looked at the food and sighed. Poor guy.”

• He also drove to collect me when the Fairmont died, this time in Monroe.

• I also recall calling him, in tears, from a gas station near Tarrytown: “I’m lost!” “Where are you?” “I don’t know, I’m lost!!” Try having that discussion with your teenaged daughter.

PS: He figured it out.

My Dad was not the most affectionate man in the world. It took me 31 years to realize: He was not actually good with kids. Or teenagers, or 20-somethings, really. But somewhere around the time I hit 31, we began to talk more. And those conversations were a revelation. (Like his baklava.)

He died just before my 36th birthday.

My mom and I continue to talk about him, and sometimes (even now), she tells me things I NEVER KNEW about him, mostly his thoughts on things that were happening in the first 30 years in my life. (Apparently, though he was very polite to them, he did not like ANY of my boyfriends.)

This post isn’t sad, or sweet, or lyrical, but there’s no other way to write about my Dad but in scattered, random memories like these. So much of him was filtered through and explained to me by my mother, until those few brief, eye-opening years where I got to talk with him as a fellow grown-up.

And DAMN, I wish we’d had more of those.

PS: As you can imagine, he was not a hugger. I started giving him good-bye hugs when I got older, and frankly, it was like hugging a tall, uncooperative poodle. But I’m glad now that I insisted.