Tag Archives: father’s day

For Father’s Day, Bro Remembers Paul Kaser’s Humor

Paul Kaser circa 1980

Paul Kaser (circa 1980)

As I mentioned in my other article about my memories of Dad–he had wit and was a story teller. My brother gives us a couple of examples.

Bro, who inherited my father’s literary and imaginative gifts, sent me the first story on Father’s Day in 2003, with a note, “You probably remember that this was one of his favorite true stories.”  I think we have to allow some leeway in the definition of “true” although Paul Kaser did most definitely work and hang out at the Alderman Hardware store in Killbuck, Ohio.  He and the owner and others had a bottle of whisky in the back storeroom and they would gather around and tell stories until the cows came home.

By Bro Kaser

A Paul Kaser Story: A Thoughtful Gift

chopping wood

chopping wood

The time was somewhere between the great wars in a small Midwestern country town.  The place was somewhere between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi, where I had found a job as a clerk in a hardware store.  Our stock in trade included such items as hammers, horse collars, picks, saws, fence-stretchers, and axes.  It was the latter item which provided this story and many a laugh for the store’s owner and me.

The personae dramatis for our story lived a few miles from town and up the “holler.”  The one -room board and batten house was complete with leaning porch where the men of the family found room for relaxation and reverie.  And what men—there was not one among the father and several sons who was less than six feet tall or weighted less than two hundred pounds, all lean hard muscle and tough bone.

One of these sons of the disappearing frontier came into the hardware on a summer day and asked to see an axe.  He was promptly shown the heavier, double-bladed.

“Too heavy,” was his surprising comment.

A slightly lighter, single-bit brought the same response.

Unable to understand why this Paul Bunyan would want anything less than a man-sized axe, the clerk invited him to examine the whole stock of axes in the warehouse, and in a few minutes he returned with a small, very lightweight axe and asked the price.

“That one sells for $1.49.  What good will such a dinky tool as that do you?” the clerk could not help asking.

“Oh, it’s not for me.  It’s Mother’s birthday.  I just got plumb tired watching her chop stove wood with Pa’s big old heavy axe.”

And Bro also sent me his own recollection of working alongside Dad.

Dad’s Gardens of Delight and Deception

Family Photo of Garden

Paul Kaser’s carefully planned garden in Columbus Ohio, Circa 1950.

Whether we lived on a small suburban plot or on a country acre outside of town, Dad never missed a chance to build and maintain a neatly engineered and well tended garden.

Picking Peas for Dumbo

I have a vivid memory of desperately picking peas when I was about five years old. If I accumulated enough, I would be taken to see the new release of Dumbo. I kept looking eastward where the sky was purpling toward dusk. Soon I began to believe it was all going to be in vain. I’d never reach my quota before dark. The bucket grew cruelly large. I’d never be able to fill it in time.

Downtown, the movie had probably already started. I began to hate the monotonous ping of the peas I flung into the pail behind me. But somehow Dad must have secretly contributed part of his pickings because when I looked again, the bucket was full to the victory line. Thinking back, I assume now that Dad had wanted to see Dumbo almost as much as I had. But then, with some of the dirt still under my fingernails and my hands still smelling of peas as I watched the wonders of Disney unfold, I was sure I had earned this all by myself.

Dumbo the Elephant

Dumbo the Elephant, photo by Lauren Javier

That’s why Dumbo was more memorable in its way than any of the hundreds of films I have seen since and which provided me with a second profession. [Note: Bro Kaser reviews and lectures on movies]. You never know where picking a few peas (with the help of a empathetic parent) will take you.

The Dumbo picture and the chopping wood picture come from Flickr. You can click on the photo to learn more about the photographer. Other photos are the property of Ancestors in Aprons.

Father’s Day Memories of Paul Kaser

Paul Kaser circa 1980

Paul Kaser circa 1980

Paul Kaser (1909-1996), my father, has been gone for many years from this earth, but not from my heart and my mind.  I think of him very often, and particularly on Father’s Day.

For instance, I recently went to a farmer’s market here in Tucson and bought some corn on the cob. They’re known as roasteneers where I came from in Ohio, a descriptive word  to separate feed corn from “roasting ears.” I have never had a really good ear of corn outside of the Ohio corn country where I grew up.  They are carried too far from where they were raised. They didn’t get enough moisture from summer rains. They just didn’t grow in Ohio corn company.

Even in Ohio, where we hoped for the corn to be “knee high by the 4th of July” in order to yield a good crop at the end of the summer, the roasteneers are not always perfect. Dad was a great story-teller and I never buy or cook roasteneers without hearing Dad’s tale about corn in my head. Perfect, my dad explained, works like this:

You have to plant the corn on a hillside. When it is time to harvest the roasteneers, you build a fire under a big kettle of water at the bottom of the hill, and cut the ears off so they roll down hill directly into the kettle. It is the only way to be sure the corn is fresh enough, he swore.

Paul Kaser Carving Turkey, Thanksgiving 1957

Paul Kaser Carving Turkey, Thanksgiving 1957

I have other kitchen memories with Dad.  When I was around nine and ten years old, we lived in Columbus, Ohio and Dad and I did the dishes after dinner.  He was very particular about methods of doing things. For instance, dishes should be stacked when they were waiting to be washed–not just scattered all over the counter taking up the whole kitchen. I still compulsively stack dirty dishes beside the sink as I take them from the table.

Next, he explained that there was a proper order to washing the dishes. The least dirty things–like water glasses, went in first, so they wouldn’t be spotted with the water that got greasy as the progression of plates, silverware, and finally pans went through the dishwater. That bit of knowledge is definitely lost in the age of automatic dishwashers.

Another crochet of Daddy’s was hard butter. He hated having butter that tore holes in the bread. So he and mother constantly struggled to find the right balance. Leave the butter out long enough to be spreadable, but not so long that it would become a greasy pool on the plate in Ohio’s summertime heat.

And the bread that the butter went on?  He hated white factory bread (like Rainbo) with a passion. One of his favorite parlor tricks was to illustrate the inedible-ness of that gooey white bread by tearing off the crust and rolling the white bread into a ball, which he bounced on the floor.  If you have any of that offensive stuff around your house, try it. After turning bread into a rubber ball, you’re more inclined to go for the multi-grain or home-baked varieties.

Paul Kaser at work 1963

Paul Kaser at work 1963

Our father was also fearless when it came to food.  He approached most of life with the soul of an engineer. (He wasn’t one, but that’s a long story which I’ll get to another time). So of course, he looked at preparing food as a science. I will always remember one time when Mother went to Killbuck to visit Grandma and Grandpa Anderson, and Dad was free to experiment. He decided to make cottage cheese.  It turned out pretty well, as I recall, and gave him plenty of fodder for stories, but he moved on and I don’t know that he ever tried that particular experiment again.

Although he had been raised in a Seven-Day Adventist family and attended vegetarian gatherings when they lived in the Washington D.C. area, he never shunned meat.  His background may have made him more enthusiastic about vegetables, fresh foods and pure foods, but his favorite eating places were a small basement level restaurant in Columbus Ohio that served day-old stew. He raved about that place long after it went out of business, and praised stew that had aged a bit.

Berghoff Restaurant Chicago

Berghoff Restaurant Chicago

His other favorite restaurant was Chicago’s meat-heavy German restaurant, Berghoff. He loved the waiter’s in their formal suits and nearly floor-length aprons. I visited Chicago in the 90’s and was able to report to him that it had barely changed during its 100 year history.  It has undergone some drastic changes, but apparently is now back to serving the classic dishes along with newer version.

If some of what I have written makes him sound a bit stiff and stern–he looked that way to my boyfriends because when he was very small, he had injured one eye, and so he always seemed to be scowling. And he did approach everything in life methodically. But he also had a quick wit and boundless imagination.

Paul Kaser Clowning circa 1965

Paul Kaser Clowning circa 1965 in Scottsdale

But those who knew him thought first of his humorous story telling. I’m sure that more of his stories will pop up here at Ancestors in Aprons, and not just on Father’s Day. Here are a couple Paul Kaser stories from my brother.

Meanwhile, if you are fortunate to still have your father with you, give him a special Father’s Day gift.  Ask him to tell you about his childhood, his favorite foods, what he remembers of his mother’s cooking, what his favorite restaurants were. Record his memories. Because fathers don’t last forever.