My father wasnât born in this country. He came from the Philippines, in the early â30s with, I believe, one intent in mind â to embrace America as his own.
By the time I had memories of Thanksgiving, he was well ensconced in this truly American tradition and celebrated it with customary gusto.
He would rise early to put the bird in the oven. From the doorway of the kitchen I would watch him washing the turkey. He was a designing engineer by trade and his craft didn’t leave him as he meticulously closed the cavity with artful crosses of butcher’s string.
For most of the year I rarely saw my father in the kitchen save for Sundays and the holidays. Those were his to shine and my mother knew better than to intrude with his culinary undertakings.
My father really took great delight in preparing the turkey. On this day of traditional thanks, I feel that the larger bird he had to prepare, the happier he was. Thus, we would usually have turkey for many days.
While my mother baked pies and side dishes and set a very fancy table, my father would tend to the turkey for many hours, basting it religiously.
The aroma on Thanksgiving day was heavenly as the smells of Dad’s bird wafted throughout the house.
But, it was my father’s dressing that was the true masterpiece.
He would start the day before cutting and toasting bread cubes.
Peeking through the kitchen doorway again, I’d see him chopping onions and celery, melting butter in a large pot, pouring in some liquid, tasting, seasoning and stirring.
When we were finally all seated at the dining room table, it was my father’s dressing that was always the biggest hit.
I hadn’t developed a taste for mushrooms yet and would always query him if he had put any in the dressing.
“No,” he would say, “just eat it.”
It was never dry. Rather, it was very moist and comfortable feeling and it left me smiling and reaching for seconds.
As the years went on, the reputation for my father’s dressing spread among our family members and each Thanksgiving it was the one dish that everyone looked forward to the most – Dad’s moist stuffing with unmistakable good flavor.
My father passed away 18 years ago.
The first Thanksgiving that occurred after his death, my sister was in Oregon and I here in Virginia. I can’t recall which one of us called the other but it was with the same question – “Do you have Dad’s stuffing recipe?”
“I think he may have put some soup in it,” said my sister.
“Well, I do know now that he used mushrooms,” I replied.
In our long history of living with this man who migrated to America from an island culture, we never thought to preserve this recipe that I believe was never written down.
Since my mother stayed clear of him when he was preparing this dish, she didn’t recall how he did it only that it was very good.
Every year or so one of us will lay claim that we’ve replicated Dad’s dressing but I know it is not so.
This year as I prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving I have stuffing on my list. It is one of my grown children’s favorites and while I’d like to say it’s a recipe refined by their grandfather I cannot lay claim to that.
I can only savor the memory.