I Watched I Listened and I Learned

"I love you baby." was heard often as a child as I was growing up. Dad encouraged.dad taught.and dad was always there.

At one point when I was a child, my mom, dad, and two siblings all suffered from asthma. As the doctor bills began to accumulate—no health insurance in those days—Mom decided to work outside the home to supplement the family income. When dad would arrive home from work, it was time for Mom to leave for her job, so Dad cared for us in the evenings. Therefore, he was present at my first cooking attempt, a somewhat lopsided layer cake.

Instead of criticizing the less than perfect result, he praised my "delicious" creation, giving me the incentive to try again with an improved edition. Dad supervised my first candy-making attempt too, and helped me follow the instructions that came with the candy kit I ordered from the Sears catalog. I remember him helping me to test to see if the corn syrup concoction had reached the "hard ball stage" when we dropped a bit of the hot liquid into a glass of cold water. As I grew, I watched Dad prepare his specialties—potato salad that accompanied us on every family picnic.

And a trip to a salt water beach to dig clams meant that Dad would be cooking his famous Manhattan-style clam chowder. Once a year, our home was filled with the rather unpleasant odor of lutefisk cooking for a Swedish Christmas meal. I believe I acquired my love for cooking in those early childhood days when my ever-patient dad supervised my first culinary adventures.

Dad had a wonderful sense of humor and knew how to make kids laugh. Every year, four or five families drove a few hours to the ocean beaches of Washington State. It was a long car trip for kids and when we stopped for lunch about an hour away from destination, cousins would often switch cars to be together and relieve the monotony. It was common to hear several of my cousins chorus, "We want to ride with Uncle Vic.

" A ride in his car meant fun and adventure. Once we turned off the highway and started driving on the back roads, one of the cousins would say, "Be silly, Uncle Vic." At that prompting, Dad would ruffle up his hair, put his cap on backwards, allow his dentures to protrude just a bit, and hunch over the wheel, pretending to drive like a wild man. The kids loved it! Off we'd go, a cloud of dust behind us, while kids giggled and squealed. As soon as Dad returned to "normal," there would be cries of "Do it again, Uncle Vic.

Do it again." And there would be a great feeling of anticipation, waiting for Uncle Vic to surprise us when further down the road he again transformed himself into this other crazy persona. Dad didn't take himself too seriously, and this was a lesson his children learned well. My parents, though they had the same kinds of struggles that other couples faced, loved one another deeply, and I learned what commitment means from them. Though Dad was a patient and loving man who felt things deeply, he was a very private individual who certainly wasn't quick to wax poetic or reveal his inward thoughts.

When day while visiting him in the hospital during his final week of fighting cancer, Mom entered the room. Dad said to me, "When she comes in, it's like a ray of sunshine brightening my room." After almost 50 years of marriage, Mom was still the love of his life and he was totally committed to her. I learned a lot about friendship from my dad too. In his seventies, he had a friend he had known since childhood. They had fished together in Alaska when halibut fishing was their occupation.

Over the years they formed a strong bond of friendship and had weathered a lot of life's storms together. On the last day of Dad's life, as he was in and out of consciousness, his friend, Chet, sat down next to his hospital bed and grabbed Dad's hand. What do you say at a time like that? Chet struggled with his emotions as he looked into the face of his life-long friend. Finally, he uttered words that were simple, yet so very meaningful, "thank you for being my friend," and rushed from the room, sobbing, overcome by emotions. Friendship was important to Dad, and my siblings and I are better people from the lessons we learned from Dad about friendship. I watched, I listened and I learned from the greatest.

Thank you, Dad.

Jeff Gustafson and MyHATT, An international dinner club concept where people get to know people one bite at a time...thank you to Arlene Hawkinson for her contribution and my entire MyHATT staff for the educational content for world culture, the history, world traditions, the international menus for this wondeful family activity website... http://www.myhatt.com

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