Dad was a lot of things: Father. Husband. Grandfather. Salesman. Foodie. Golfer. Fisherman. Gardener. Water skier. Creative swearer. Carpenter. Photographer. Guitar player. Computer enthusiast. Traveler. He taught me about many subjects, but his most lasting legacy to me was how he lived his life with endless curiosity and enthusiasm. A never-graduating, Student of the Game of Life.
Before it was A Thing, Dad was a foodie. He was the only person I knew who got Gourmet magazine and actually cooked from it in the 1980s. Before Pinterest became an instant recipe delivery device, he recreated his favorite dishes from restaurants he’d gone to on his business trips using just his incredible palate and taste memory. His chili recipe is legendary for its heat and intensity: He claimed it came from Butch McGuire himself (but that is another story).
He flamed Bananas Foster at home and fed us fondue when we were very young (and it became a favorite birthday dinner request). He watched cooking shows like Justin Wilson’s cajun cooking, Julia Child and The Frugal Gourmet. He took my mom to Italy, and upon returning, recreated all their favorite dishes such as carbonara, which became another family favorite. I learned that butter and heat are important ingredients, and more is almost always better. He talked about cooking and recipes constantly. His enthusiasm was contagious.
A great cook needs a great garden, and I remember how he sweated through his shirt as he wrestled the rototiller through the orange, baked clay soil of our side yard in Pennsylvania to create it. He raked and planted and watered and obsessed and watched and worried and finally, harvested. Huge zucchini and cucumbers and tomatoes filed the kitchen and our neighbors’ front porches. I loved to pick and eat the still-warm strawberries from the huge mound he’d constructed near the main garden. He poured over gardening magazines and specialty seed catalogs.
Image from Joyce Reid, taken in Islamorada, Florida, 1987.
We would walk through the tall rows of tomatoes at the end of the season as the leaves began to curl on themselves, brown and exhausted. Inhaling the scent of tomato leaves, we discussed next year’s crops. Corn, maybe, he said. Or we could try pumpkins to enter in the county fair? I learned about staking tomatoes, watering from the bottom, how to pick off the clinging, iridescent Japanese beetles. He talked about our garden and harvests constantly. His enthusiasm was contagious.
When we moved to Florida, Dad’s interests turned to the sea. We bought a small motor boat and he took to fishing. He invested in high-test fishing line, huge reels and thick fishing rods and Mom got him outriggers for trolling for fish. We watched the sunset on the evening before fishing trips, and the sunrise on morning of just to be sure (Red sky at night, sailors’ delight; Red sky at dawn, sailors take warn). We headed out on the water in the early morning light, equipped with water and snacks and bait in the live well. Sometimes we caught nothing, other times we’d feed the family with Mahi-Mahi or other delicacies and I learned that there are two kinds of people: Those who are sea sick and those who will someday be sea sick. I tied knots and learned how to set the anchor.
We took family vacations to the Florida Keys and fished and snorkeled around John Pennecamp Park in Islamorada each summer. Back home he read fishing magazines, watched fishing shows on TV. He talked about our boat and fishing constantly. His enthusiasm was contagious.
A few years later, he took up golf. Always a sharp dresser, golf was a perfect sport for a clothes and shoe enthusiast and as we’d come to expect, he took to it with his full attention. He’d played for years and done some client golfing but now it was game on. He bought new clubs, joined a golf club, got Mom some shoes (the way to her heart?), took lessons, stayed at the driving range far after dark and at the course every weekend.
He and my mom played together and when we visited home, my sister and brother and I played, too. He read golf magazines, watched golf tournaments and instruction on TV. He traveled to Ireland to golf. I learned not to bet him when we played. He talked about golf constantly. His enthusiasm was contagious.
His birthday is July 28 and while 2017 marks our fifth without him, he’s never far from my mind. I see the patterns of the enthusiasm gene spelled out in my life daily. It’s not enough for me to simply dabble in a new interest or hobby, I must investigate. Study. Learn. Gear Up. Read. Watch. Go Deep. I became a runner, and then I ran Marathons and Triathlons, complete with wet suit, race bike, magazines, gear and trips. I cut my hair to make training easier. I talked about it constantly. My enthusiasm was contagious.
My coffee table is full of cooking magazines and I never met a cookbook that I didn’t long to add to my vast collection. I think about food and cooking more than is probably normal. It’s not enough for me to bake the occasional muffin, I must grow sourdough starter, make bagels, learn how to make jam. I study kitchen store and flour catalogs intently. I talk about my projects constantly and share my successes and failures with family and friends. I Instagram the results. My enthusiasm is contagious.
On the south side of our home, a tomato jungle grows. Three plants gone wild, winding and arching up the trellis of our porch, vines bowed and heavy with the weight of green tomatoes, thick and glistening with summer bounty. I feed them coffee grounds and banana peels and pick off dead leaves and worry about blight and bugs. I run my hands through the leaves and inhale the sweet musky scent.
My sons scramble out each morning to count the baby tomatoes. They pick the red/black cherry variety with careful, chubby fingers. We pop them in our mouths and they burst when we bite these gems, still warm from the sun. We grow mint and lettuce and herbs and harvest them together. We have learned to love what we grow and to grow what we love. We talk about our garden constantly.
Our enthusiasm is contagious.
Happy Birthday, Daddy-o. I love you.
– Photo of David Reid graciously provided by Joyce Reid, taken in Islamorada, Florida, 1987.