Riding home from church with my family as a little boy we always passed a Pancake House. My plaintive pleas never moved my parents to stop. In hindsight it is plain to see it was not my parents desire to leave me awash in near overwhelming desire, nor were they miserly with their love and gifts, it was their pocket book that pushed us past the Pancake House each week. Though I had no idea, we were poor.
In our youth my brother and I spent a good portion of our summers on our grandparent’s farm. Near the end of my third grade school year and summer poised, as we made our way home from church one Sunday my parents promised that if I made no “D’s” report card, we would stop at the Pancake House on the first following Sunday. My summer at the farm that year was filled with exquisite anticipation of receiving a letter from my parents telling me I had no D’s. It would have to come by mail you see because, while there was a phone in my grandparents’ house, the phone was on a party line and used only in emergencies. There were no unlimited calling plans in those days and my grandparents were even more poor than us.
Receiving mail was rare for my grandparents so checking the mail, at the communal collection of mailboxes down the highway, was done only during the even more rare trips to town. Needless to say, my excitement was near fever pitch each time my brother and I rode to town with my grandparents. We passed the mailboxes both going to and coming from town and it was with a mix of hope and caution that my eyes soaked in their mailbox as we made our way to town. You see, the mailbox was on the wrong side of the road to make the stop going to town and was most convenient on the return trip. It was like Sunday mornings going past the Pancake House all over again! How could God, if there was a God, tease and tickle my soul so ruthlessly?
While there were missives from my parents early that summer filled with blather about missing me and my brother, none contained the all-important information about my report card. Finally the day came. All my hard work in school … yes, hard as is to believe for those who know me, I worked hard in school as a boy, especially that year … had paid off! No D’s!!! Overcome with excitement as I was, I knew this would be my longest summer ever at the farm. And, it would be another week beyond that. After my parents gathered us from the farm at the so distant end of summer. I had done it! Pancakes were to be mine!
“I taught I taw a puddy tat!”, my brother hollered as he let go of the rope swinging around his head. The rope he had been holding was tethered to a tire swing hanging from a majestic oak in the dirt driveway of the farm. My mind has long since lost the meaning of that phrase we hollered all that summer, but the words come crisp and clear in my memory. My brother … Barb. Never in the annuals of brotherhood has there been a finer brother. He was older than me by fourteen months and was a buffer to a father who was authoritative, demanding and … disciplined. Barb was bigger, stronger and more loved than me by our father. Those long sweltering days of Texas summers so long ago looking for “Something to do”. To this day he is Barb to me, though most know him by his “adult” name. No starring role for him in this story but he is the star of my youth, and remains a star for me today. Enough said about that right here.
Okay, things got away from me there for a bit. Back to the story …
The gray velour seats in my parents old black Chevrolet gave off puffs of dust as I beat them with excitement when at last that summer came to an end and, my parents, having already collected us from the farm, we were nearing the Pancake House as we made our way home from church. My feelings that day have stayed with me and I reminisce back them when I achieve some current modicum of success in my life. They say, “Success breeds success.”, and I believe them. The day of the buckwheat pancakes was the culmination of determined effort from a little boy who was now reaping the rewards.
Once in our seats, looking at the Pancake House menu brought no relief to my overexcited state of being! In my state of mind, reading through the variety of breakfast offerings was tedious. Not only were there too many varieties of pancakes on the menu, there were pictures of eggs, toast, fruits and such on the menu that were also very enticing. There was French toast! My God! My mother’s French toast was only outdone by her pancakes, which were the best. It was all overwhelming for this little boy.
To dispel any doubts with regards to whether my mother’s pancakes were the best, let me relate evidence presented on the mornings in which she delivered them to our breakfast table. Our father, being our father, always received the first pancake from the skillet. Not knowing the first pancake always sticks and produces a less desirable pancake, I thought it unjust that he always had the first pancake. As a father myself, I know the sacrifice fathers make on behalf of their children. Both large and small. That father taking that first pancake plays huge in the mind of this father today.
After having a bite of that first pancake, my father always said, “Average.” We, my four siblings and I, would groan. For we knew he would say that and we knew better. We also knew he would then follow up with, “Baby, your average beats everyone’s best!” While we “got it”, it did not make hearing “Average” all that easy. My parents were the best. Never has a child rested more peacefully cradled in the bosom of love, than me in those days. Oh to go back to those times! I invite you to go with me. Come! Let’s go! Carefree in the knowledge of who you are and where you fit in. Remember? So it was then, and can be for me today if only I pay attention.
Once my eyes caught Buckwheat Pancakes on the menu I knew they were what I wanted. I’d never had buckwheat pancakes but my childhood hero, Roy Rodgers, ate them. No doubt it was buckwheat pancakes for me.
Now I know what you are thinking, “Oh no! Not buckwheat pancakes!” Living in 2015, as you were if you are reading this, you know that buckwheat pancakes might be okay for some kind of health nut, but totally not suitable to a young boy in 1960. Who in their right mind would let a little boy order buckwheat pancakes? But let me they did.
When the buckwheat pancakes arrived it was all I could do to get butter and syrup on them before beginning to shovel them in my mouth! At my first bite I learned that reality may not always live up to expectations. They were terrible. I was crestfallen, and I’m sure began to cry.
My father, as was his wont, took pity on me. He took my buckwheat pancakes and gave me his “normal” ones. As with the first pancake out of the skillet, he sacrificed for his child. My father gave so much to me is so many ways, large and small. While his sacrifice to me that day played a small part in my mind at the time, in contrast to its exciting start it was what saved that day and allows it remain as one my favorites.
So ends the saga of the buckwheat pancakes. But days of that type are what formed the values and ideals that I carry as an adult. Such was the impact my father had on my life. He wanted me to be happy and was willing to make sacrifices to ensure it. In hindsight, his sacrifices were often and no less significant than on that day of the buckwheat pancakes.
My father is long dead but he lives on as residue in my heart and mind. May that residue be manifest in the love I give to my daughter, my Squid. Ever be her heart as filled with excitement and joy as was mine on the day of the buckwheat pancakes!
Love ya’ Squid!
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