Ciao'd with an Arnold Palmer and a splash of pineapple juice.
The yellow dots spike the darkness behind my eyelids. Like white-hot meteors, they come crashing through my brain. This is my migraine. I'm ten years old.
The hand gently patting my back, one-two-three, one-two-three, keeps rhythm with the words that seep through the pounding ether. “This will pass.” “You’ll be fine.” “That’s my girl.” One-two-three, one-two-three.
When I float back to childhood, this memory rises to greet me. A migraine, pulsing darkness, light, distress, and fear allayed with comfort, assurance, and calm.
It was my dad’s hand that patted my back. It was my dad who accompanied me to the eye doctor and when the doctor admonished, “She could have been hit by a truck,” he replied, "Not a car?”
In fifth grade, I was on my way to the corner to meet my friend, Laura, for our walk to school. Halfway there, taunts crackled from behind a cluster of dogwood trees, “Donut! There goes sugar donut, cinnamon donut, chocolate donut.” It’s a weird skill kids possess, the ability to siphon a sassy name from a given one. Donata = donut.
I wish I could say I slayed the beast, threw a rock or yelled back at least, but instead, I ran home. My dad was in the driveway about to depart for his office. I blubbered about donuts and having a stupid name. My dad put his hands on my shoulders and asked, “Do you know the meaning of the word individual? It means that you have unique characteristics that set you a part from others in a good and special way. You’re not Sue, Jane or Linda; you're Donata." And then he said, "Own it, girl." LOL, not. So, losers behind the dogwood trees, put that in your bologna sandwich and bite it.
The migraine memory is true, and it's a metaphor, too. The migraine is a child's pain in all its manifestations. The back-pat is a parent’s salve.
My dad lived in a house with five females, my mom, and four daughters. I ask you, people, especially those long-suffering souls who know the havoc that daughters can wreak, how did he do it? How did he remain sane and in fact, sanguine about the whole thing? My dad was the nurturer. He kept us safe and dried our tears. He lifted us when we were blue and took the wind out of our sails when we bragged. He listened to God knows how many laments about mean girls and inattentive boyfriends and, if that weren’t enough, he listened while Carly Simon (“You’re So Vain”) or the Bee Gees (“How Deep Is Your Love”) sang in the background. And so it went throughout our lives. Dad nurtured, we thrived.
I’m not a nurturer, at least not to the degree that my father was. I feel sad that I can’t return his depth of comfort, assurance, and calm as he slips along the shoals of Alzheimer’s. He won’t know it’s Father’s Day. His mind has been left to languish in twilight. Still, I like to believe a scrap of my memories or some like them embrace his heart. After all, isn’t the heart where memories reside?
Happy Father’s Day, dad. I love you.
PEPPERY STEAMED MUSSELS
Pepata di Cozze
The Pugliese (denizens of the Puglia region of Italy) are greatly fond of mussels so it makes sense that my dad holds them in high esteem, too. In this rendition, an abundance of black pepper (the pepata) lifts the briny creaminess of the mussels. Serve the mussels as a first or a main course, accompanied with toasted country bread that has been rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil.
Serves 4 to 6
2 to 3 pounds mussels, scrubbed
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup white wine or water
Finely chopped parsley (optional)
Lemon wedges (optional)
Place the mussels in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over high heat. Grind over them the black pepper, add the wine or water, and cover with a lid. Let the mussels steam, shaking the pot from time to time. Cook until all the mussels have opened,
6 to 8 minutes. Discard those that have not opened.
Serve from the pot or transfer with the broth to individual bowls. Sprinkle the mussels with the chopped parsley, if using. If you wish, serve the mussels with lemon wedges, though this is not necessary.