I inherited precisely five things from my father after he died. Two of them, and for reasons that are inexplicable to me, are spoons. A big metal one that I use for cooking vast quantities of sauces and such and a soup spoon with a black bakelite handle I reserve for comfort foods.
The brass knuckles that he kept in a metal locker in the cellar underneath the apartment building where we lived also came to be in my possession. In winter I used to wear them underneath a black leather glove when riding the A train through Brooklyn to get to high school. I only used the weapon a handful of times, always out of self-defense, though I may be undercounting here just a bit.
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There was also a thousand-dollar check from a life insurance policy that was turned over to me when I became eighteen, five years, give or take, after dad died. I used the money, as best I can recall, to buy books and records and black-and-white film and drugs and Chinese food and gifts for a girlfriend or two. Unlike the spoons, which I still have, and the brass knuckles, which I don't, the money never meant much to me.
Then, of course, there is "the book." Like the spoons, it has a distinct culinary bent. Also like the spoons, I will never part with it.
"Technical Manual 10-412" was released by the War Department of the United States in August 1944. A copy of TM 10-412, also entitled "Army Recipes," belonged to my father. He was a corporal in the Army, you see, and his station during his tour of duty was that of cook.
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I would like nothing better than to tell you some of my father's mess hall stories; really, I can't think of many things that might make me happier. Except that I don't have any of my father's mess hall stories. Because the man never told me any of them.
He was a quiet one, my father. I cannot say what thoughts he may have had or positions he might have held on the vast number of matters that make up a man's life.
To be honest, I don't know a lot about the man at all. He was an orphan for a time, but the details on this are sparse and a bit murky. My father worked seven days a week, went to church on Sundays and provided for his family modestly but the best way he knew how. He has also been gone since before I made it out of grade school, and so I don’t really have very much to go on.
Searching through his cookbook hasn't shed any further light either, for here too he is silent. There isn't a handwritten scribble on any of the manual's two hundred and seventy pages. Not a single one.
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I know this because I have gone through the pages hundreds of times through the years, each time searching for my father and wishing that I had missed something the time before.
I looked at it again just yesterday, in fact.
But he's just not in there.