"Derailed"  

a brief ride on my train of thought

musings of the homebound mind by jim "shu" carroll

  • jim "shu" carroll

breakfast biscuits

my dad was an extraordinary human. and that's not just me talking. you could ask just about anyone who knew him and they would tell you he was one of the most generous, kind, intelligent, and creative people they knew. of course i didn't appreciate all of that when i was young and living with my parents. he was just my dad. there were times in my life when he worked from dark to dark. but whenever he was home, he was larger than life, both figuratively and literally. dad was a charter member of "the greatest generation". born in 1919 in minco oklahoma he was a farm kid. 5 boys and one girl provided quite a crew for the carroll family, and it was a good thing, too. it wasn't uphill in the snow both to and from school, but it was hard. durng the depression and the uncertain years after the boys worked the farm, and my aunt juanita worked the kitchen with my gran. that's just the way it was. still juanita was built in the same mold as the carroll boys: tall, sturdy, big-boned and rough and tumble. the extended family referred to the carroll boys as "the beef trust". they worked hard and for "play" they hunted and fished. there were hams and salmon hanging in the attic, and the freezer was full of venison and elk. if you dropped these boys naked in the woods they would walk out clothed and well fed some time later. they didn't have to tell you they were tough. they just were. my mom and dad were married on december 27th 1941. and yes, they knew dad would be in the war soon. that's why they hurried to get married. a few months later my dad was on a troop ship bound for north africa with 5000 other young men heading into uncertainty and war. my mom would not see him for 2 1/2 years. when he returned from italy he told my mom that one day when they could afford it he was going to take her back and show her florence which he considered the most beautiful city he had ever seen. he said he was pretty sure it would be even more beautiful without people shooting at him. mom agreed, and they went on their 30th anniversary. my dad was a modest man. he wouldn't tell the story of his medals. when he spoke of the war he only told about the friendships he developed, like with his lifelong friend "switt". he and bob swittenberg fished from the ponte vecchio with hand grenades. dad said the fish you could find were tasty, especially compared to C rations. i heard that story more than once as my dad fileted a salmon caught off our cabin on bainbridge island, and later as he cleaned crab on his beach in coupeville. i loved it every time i heard it. but it was one of the few stories he told about the war. he never spoke of the battles, except to glorify the Nissei, the fightin' 442nd, the regiment of japanese-american soldiers who burst through the blocked supply lines of his unit pinned down in the appenines, mired in the mud, surrounded by german troops and running low on supplies. when my dad met my boss george iwasaki in 1969 and learned that george had been part of that unit, my dad shook george's hand in both of his and teared up with gratitude and honor at meeting one of HIS heroes. so it didn't surprise me that dad didn't bring home any "souveniers of war". no guns. no spoils. not even many stories. i only found his bronze star in a box while digging in the hope chest one day looking for something or other. i asked him to tell me about it and he said "oh, i was just a good boy and followed all the rules so they gave me a medal". maybe there was some truth in that, i don't know. he never changed that line. but he did keep the fork. "the fork" was a heavy sterling silver fork, more of a serving fork than something you would eat with. dad said it came from the galley of mussolini's private ship, and there was a crest on the back of that which proved that, though i don't remember what it looked like. it was crazy heavy for its size, which i attribute to not only its design, but to its composition. the other thing that was odd about it was that one of the tines was slightly shorter and curved in just a bit at the tip. i didn't know how it got that way, but my dad assured me it was because of the number of times he had used it to mix biscuits in a ceramic bowl. i can't tell you how many times my dad made baking powder biscuits between the end of the war in 1945 and his death 60 years later. but i can tell you i remember him mixing that batter in a yellow ceramic bowl nearly every sunday of my life from sometime in the 50s when i started noticing things until those wonderful "at the beach" weekends with my own kids at gran and grandad's magical beach house on long point all through the 70s and 80s and beyond. i haven't checked, but i'll bet my next pension check that a majority of my kids and their kids and all their cousins can remember that fork, and i guarantee you that EVERY one of them remembers their grandad's biscuits. it's how you knew it was sunday, and you probably had to go back to school or work the next day, but you didn't even care. because just for today you got to eat those biscuits with gran's homemade tayberry jam. the story probably could end right there, but it would leave out a very important detail, which is also an insight into the soul of this powerful, gentle, soft-spoken man: my dad also loved music. he didn't play any instruments. there wasn't time or money for that when he was young. but he had a marvelous singing voice we heard only rarely. maybe singing along with andy williams or humming along with henry mancini. but one part of the biscuit ritual which is indelibly etched on some of my most powerful and longest-lasting memory cells is my dad humming and singing along with nat king cole while he made sunday biscuits. that music. the sounds of the "mussolini fork" wearing away at that one tine on the yellow ceramic bowl, his obvious joy in this ritual - all these things are indelibly tied to sunday breakfast and biscuits forever.