Have you ever made pancakes for one? You look at the back of the box, pick out the recipe with the fewest servings, measure out the mix and you’re on your way; simple enough. So, there I am leering over the counter trying to figure out how many pancakes is this really going to make. 6 little ones, 4 mediums, 2 larges and a runt, or should I just fill the entire cast iron pan with mix and see what comes of it. My head swims and I am reminded that I am in fact making these pancakes to fight my hangover. A hangover which should have been abolished by the tall Tervis Tumblers full of water and the b-12 vitamin I drank before bed last night. I am convinced that these pancakes will cure what ails me.
The pan is already out. It’s kind of always out. It lives on its burner. A silent sentinel: too heavy to be easily lifted and too large to be easily stored. I scoop a dollop of butter (note, it’s not real butter it’s Earth Balance) into the center and start to spread it around as the pan slowly eats the heat from the blue gas flame beneath it. All of this is done in the near silence of bare feet scuffing on wood floors and utensils and instruments being gently placed on glass plates and Formica counter tops as it is only 7:30 on a Sunday morning and the wife likes to sleep in. Finally (at least for now) I begin to pour the batter. You always start in the center. Then I slowly spiral outwards into a nice, roughly 4 inch cake that would make dad proud.
And then you wait. You scan the front page, nothing interesting there. Find the sports section and follow the jump on a story about the Seminoles, then change your mind about finishing it and move onto the classifieds. All the while keeping an eye on the bubbles working their way up through the uncooked dough, making sure the timing is right and gently pushing under the edges to make sure there won’t be any problems with sticking. Turn back to the classifieds, peeling back the first page to reveal the full breadth of the Sunday crossword. Another quick glance, still bubbling. I scan the first few clues (none of which I know) as my palm and gravity work in concert to sink the plunger on the French Press. A final look reveals no more bubbles and I grab the spatula for the flip.
I am 6 years old. I am standing on a chair from the kitchen table. Despite the boost I am still shorter than my father. We are both pressed against the light pink Formica counter; I’m mixing the batter (make sure you get out most of the lumps) and he is fiddling with the temperature on the griddle (always cook at 350). He then carves out a hunk of margarine, drops it on the black surface, and hands me the spatula. Now it’s up to me to successfully push that golden yellow nugget around like Wayne Gretzkey and make sure every inch is greased. I always make sure to take as much time as possible, because after this I take on the role of a mere observer. It would be many years before I would be allowed to help with the actual process of pouring and flipping.
Dad would patiently pour the batter on the boiling black griddle, carving out uniform 4 inch circles, one after another. And then it was a waiting game. The exposed batter gurgles slowly bubbling and popping like a boil stained teenage face. We had to watch closely. When that last bubble popped you had to be ready to flip. When that last bubble popped they were very close to done.
On the night of Sunday, December 9th we went to dinner to celebrate my brother and I’s birthday. As we left he and I stood to take a picture with dad standing between the two of us. He placed an arm around each of us and I could feel them shaking from the strain, but they remained still strong and defiant. That night my mother took him to the hospital. The next night I was at their house. My father could no longer stand on his own and my mother could not lift him. I saw it the first time I lifted him out of his chair. His pants had sagged low on a frame eroded by 17 years of tight lipped rebellion against death. The tumor in his bladder had grown so big it threatened to burst through his skin, a final bubble waiting to pop.
So there I am, alone in my kitchen at 7:45 on a hung-over Sunday morning flipping pancakes and hoping my sadness will one day be replaced with joy when I teach my children how to mix, and butter, and wait and flip. And I hope they’ll appreciate the lessons I teach them, lessons I learned from a man they’ll never meet.