The book on the cook

12 Nov

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 I use for cooking vast quantities of sauces and such; 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.

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.

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 really cannot say what thoughts he may have had or positions he might have taken on the vast number of matters that make up a man’s life.

Searching through his cookbook hasn’t shed any further light, 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.

I know this because I have gone through the pages hundreds of times through the years, each time searching for him and wishing that I’d missed something the time before.

I looked again just yesterday, in fact.

But he’s just not in there.


9 Responses to “The book on the cook”

  1. Claudia November 12, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

    My father was a quiet man. He began a memoir which was never found after he passed. We have torn all of our homes inside out looking for it. I just felt a similar pang.

  2. Ciao Chow Linda November 13, 2011 at 9:47 pm #

    Great story, wonderful insight into what's important too you. Too bad you never found anything in the book written by your dad.

  3. Anonymous November 14, 2011 at 4:21 am #

    My father doesn't say a lot.But when he speaks it is worth listening.I am sure you remember much more of your father.You were still young..when he died.And the is priceless..

  4. Charlene Ann Baumbich November 14, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    Expressed longing, right here on a meatball blog. I can't help but believe that your earnest words have passed through a veil and touched your father's heart.

  5. Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti November 15, 2011 at 2:34 am #

    My Dad was also a cook during his tour of duty with the Army in WWII and Korea. He also cooked at home as he was a better cook than my Mom. He died when I was a young teenager and I miss him every day. Thankfully I did get a chance to hear some of his stories as he used to take me fishing with him out in Captree, LI and we;d talk as we watched our lines. I just wish I had more years with him and that he had a chance to meet my husband and children.

  6. Francesca November 15, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    Wow, you are an expert on spoons. I have a Silver Spoon (Il Cucchiao D'Argento) … it's considered the Bible of Italian food. I often make spaghetti and meatballs, my daughter's favorite dish – now everytime I make it I'll think of you. I like your blog, you're so funny. I'm following you immediately. Regards from a sicilian in Rome!

  7. Tee February 20, 2012 at 9:06 pm #

    i have just stumbled upon your blog – your food, much of it seems daunting to me, your writing is captivating and for that I will subscribe and maybe, one day, I'll try to cook something you've posted. but for sure, I will enjoy your stories and journeys to another place and time.

  8. Mister Meatball February 20, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

    Thank you, Tee, very nice of you to say. And welcome.

  9. Anonymous May 4, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

    Good bye, considerate soul mate 🙂

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