Did you know that April 12th is National Grilled Cheese Day? And April is Grilled Cheese month. My daughter is the best grilled cheese artist – there is no one better in my book, except one. This is a story about the time dad and I were batchin’ it. As I was thinking about a phrase that summed up this post the best I remembered dad telling me that while mom was in the hospital we were batchin’ it. So I Googled it to make sure I spelled it correctly and I was surprised to learn that many many people did not know what it meant so I thought I would explain it first. Batchin’ it is a colloquial term for living as a bachelor – without a wife to take care of you.
Let me introduce you to Jack. He was born in 1918, the only child of a pharmacist and a boarding house owner. By his own account he led a very spoiled life until the stock market crashed and his dad had a stroke. Dad was a cutter in the rodeo and a race car driver of super modified cars – obviously this is where my adventure gene came from because mom is shy and afraid of just about everything. A cutter is a horseman with an American Quarter Horse who trains the horse very well. In the event, man and horse cut a steer from a small herd – which merely means they block the steer from traveling with the herd, no blood is shed. When the steer tries to return to the herd, the trained horse and the horse alone keeps the steer from returning by blocking his path during all attempts. Jack also; took his hat off in the presence of all women. He held mom’s doors and coats (mine too), bought us flowers and candy on Valentine’s Day and he always, always stood when either one of us stood up in public. He always took his hat off in the house, in church, and in the presence of a lady. He could dance like the wind and his blue mirthful eyes revealed complete paragraphs although he seldom spoke a word. He thought a meal should be cooked and a sandwich was a snack. I thought he was the best thing since sliced bread and he thought the same of me.
When I was 5-years-old, mom was going to have a baby. I really didn’t know what that meant except that it was very hard to hug her now that her stomach was so big! What I didn’t know until I was much older was that mom, her brothers and sisters and my Jim-Pa all have the rarest blood type there is: AB-. I, on the other hand was born O+ meaning since dad had positive blood type (same as my biological dad) the baby was in trouble. But there was hope! Mom bravely entered into a Pfizer trial for Rh Coombs – where sadly she found out later she was given the placebo. But, early on there was excitement and hope in our house as something was coming but I wasn’t sure what – I was hoping for a horse! At 6 months along, mom was feeling ill and was rushed across the state to the big hospital in Oklahoma City. She had three amniocentesis’ tests in one day. If you’ve ever had one, you know how miserable that was. She had to stay so dad and I made the trip up and trip home (3 hours each way) every single day. We got to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at restaurants. Eating out was uncommon back then so considered a treat so I hoped mom would stay in the hospital a long time!
One day, a Sunday, we went to visit and mom was VERY sick. She was 7 months along at this point and I remember her physician telling dad that the baby was probably dying and there was nothing they could do but wait. There was also a big risk of losing mom. That was exactly what he said and somehow I thought mom was lost in the hospital so I ran down the hall and called out for her.
We made the trip every day but I never got to see her because she was too sick. Finally, one evening as we were in the waiting room talking with the physician a nurse ran in and said mom was losing too much blood. I remember her starched white nursing dress with her traditional nursing cap and how her bright red lipstick made her teeth look yellow. The look on her face was contorted and I think my age and that lipstick magnified the look. The doctor jumped up to go to the room and my dad stood up, took him by the arm, and said in a very quiet voice, that if anything happened to my mother the physician would have to answer to him. Because mom’s blood was so rare, none could be found and things were very scary I thought. Dad sat stone faced staring at something imaginary in space, but he kept saying everything was going to be okay. I’m told; the doctor himself laid down on a gurney next to mom and gave her a pint of blood until a donor could be found in another town.
That night, dad and I made the 3 hour trip home in silence. I slept most of the way. When we got home I was starving but dad………..not so much. We went into the kitchen and looked in the cupboards and the fridge. Dad didn’t cook but decided we would have grilled cheese sandwiches. Silently, except for the whir of the electric kitchen clock, I buttered bread the soft white Wonder Bread while he sliced the cheese. We sat at the bar in the kitchen I remember tracing the veins in the marble that felt cold and wet, but that’s how marble feels all the time. Dad looked as if he was lost, and I knew something was wrong because dad never wore his hat in the house and yet it was still on his head. In a few moments he announced, “I don’t know how to cook a grilled cheese, do you”? I just shrugged my shoulders and hoped I didn’t get into trouble for not answering out loud. Dad didn’t seem to notice. Then he laughed and said, “let’s bake ‘em”. And we did. We turned on the oven to 450 F and put them in for 10 minutes on one side and then a few less on the other.
I think it must have been the very best grilled cheese sandwich I ever had. Every bite was an equal balance of crunchy bread and creamy cheese. We ate in silence for a few minutes until dad asked me, “How much did the pirates earrings cost”? I didn’t know. “A buccaneer”. Laughing and mayhem ensued and all was right in my world again! The loss of the baby, a girl, was never mentioned again by my dad and my mom seldom says a word. It’s one of those things that couldn’t be spoken of because that would make it somehow………less.
Baked grilled cheese is a great way to make them and you can make several at once depending on how big your baking pan is. I hope you’ll try it sometime. I want to thank you for taking this trip down memory lane with me over the last week. We’ll go back to regular programming on Sunday! In the mean time – look what Mr. Picky Eater did with a $5 beaten up desk we got at a hard sale. Not bad, huh? I chose the color on the left and he chose the color on the right!