My father passed away in 1981 at the tender young age of 54. He died suddenly that day, leaving us all to figure out how to navigate the twists and turns of life without his hand to guide us. Over the years, I wished many a time that he could be here to just sit and enjoy life as we grew. But unfortunately fate had other plans. His life was not without hardship like so many others of his generation yet he always had a smile on his lips and hugs to go around. My father was born with a handicap that left him walking with a severe limp. The family always talked about him weighing 14 pounds at birth and that he had been injured during delivery. He went on to work in concrete and stone with my grandfather who had carried on the business from his days in Italy. My father even learned how to drive with his handicap by using two feet – one on the gas and one on the brake at all times. After marrying my mother, he subsequently taught her how to drive. On the day of her driving test, the instructor threw her out of the car as fast as he got in, admonishing my father for teaching her to use two feet. She never went back.
Then there was the year that I almost ran over my father. He was working on the car in our driveway, lying on the ground under the front of the car. He wasn’t the most nimble creature given his handicap. He asked me to get in the car and turn the ignition. What did I know? I was 13. So I did – and then I somehow managed to put the car in reverse and step on the gas pedal. The car shot backwards headed for the busy street alongside our house. Somehow, instinctively, I pushed the gear stick into drive and the car now shot forward. I still have the vision of my father desperately rolling out of the way as I shot past him into the big bush alongside our house and my mother simultaneously coming out the side door and immediately throwing up everywhere at the sight before her. Amen for that bush! It stopped me cold. My poor mother, on the other hand, was a basket case for hours.
My father never thought he would marry. He never thought he would have children. And as a result, he was a big mushball – tears would spring forth constantly. ‘My Way’ was his favorite song and he would sob whenever he would hear good ole’ Frankie sing it. I have one memory of receiving a small scholarship for college from a local organization. As I descended the stage, I heard sobbing…not just quiet sobbing, but loud gasping sobs. I was mortified to realize that it was my father sobbing at the sight of his daughter receiving a scholarship. I still remember the smell of concrete on this clothing when he returned home from work at night. But most of all, it is his big booming laugh I remember. He never complained although we suspected that he was frequently in pain due to his handicap. He certainly was not without his faults. Cigarettes and alcohol unfortunately became a release for him and he put my mother through hell as she tried to keep the family functioning in the face of his challenges. Promises to quit smoking and drinking fell by the wayside time and time again. My mother would find packs of cigarettes hidden throughout the house in the cleverest of spots. She was onto his game. I swear that when she passed away cigarettes rained down from heaven once she found him up there.
Years later, when I married, I stood at the altar and glanced down to find a ladybug staring back at me from my dress. The little ladybug spread its wings and I thought it would fly away. But just as quickly, it settled back down content against the silk of my dress. I smiled…it was my sign that my father was with me on that incredibly special day. Not too many years later, as I signed my divorce papers, it hit me – my father was indeed with me on that day and sending me a sign. But I missed his cue. By spreading his wings, he was telling me to fly away while I still could :-). Unfortunately I missed that one. My family and I chuckle about it to this day. Ladybug gifts now grace my home, bringing a smile to my face as I pass.
In the spring when I open my back door, I often find dozens of ladybugs sunning themselves on the warm stucco of my house. I smile and blow a kiss to my little friends. And rest assured, I no longer misread the sign – it is his way of telling me that he has plenty more wings to guide me through life.
So with Father’s Day tomorrow, I decided to make one of his favorites for dinner this evening – a very simple chicken with wine that my mother made often. The wonderful smells wafting through my kitchen immediately transported me back to our little kitchen growing up. As the wine cooks down, it turns into a wonderful syrupy glaze on the chicken. Enjoy!
Wishing a happy Father’s Day to all,
Chicken Marinated in Red Wine
6 cloves garlic, minced
A few tablespoons of fresh rosemary, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
About 3 pounds chicken thighs, skinless
Red wine (the cheaper, the better!)
- Combine the garlic, rosemary, salt and freshly ground pepper in a bowl large enough to hold the chicken. Add a drizzle of olive oil.
- Add the chicken to the bowl and toss. Pour enough wine over the chicken to cover. Toss again to mix well.
- Marinate the chicken for a few hours or even better, overnight if possible.
- Drain chicken, reserving the marinade. Using a cast iron frying pan if possible, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.
- Saute the chicken thighs until brown all over, about 5 minutes per side. Once browned, pour the wine marinade over the chicken. Allow to simmer until the thighs are cooked through and the wine reduces to a wonderful syrup consistency.
- Allow the chicken to rest for about 5 minutes. Serve!