... "Poke it down,” Dad would tell me, stopping the mixer. As we stood side by side, it felt like his full attention was actually on me, not the bread. I cranked up Rod Stewart on the record player, sang along with the Temptations and danced about to the Contours’ “Do You Love Me?” Bobbing and twisting in the kitchen, I belted out: “I can mash potato, mash potato. I can do the twist, do the twist... Watch me now.”
No longer feeling the outer wrappings of a self-conscious kid, I gyrated to the music and twisted down to the floor. Free, carefree. Exuberant. The transformation continued, and a lively magic surrounded us. My younger brother Gene, age six, banged away at the drums. And Dad matched our punched-up good mood as he extracted the sticky dough from the silver mixing bowl, heaped it onto a butcher-block counter and started to push it around rhythmically.
It was my turn next to knead the dough. “Lean down with the heels of your hands,” he’d say. “Flip the far side in as you give a quarter turn, and toss in small handfuls of flour to stop stickiness.”
We stood together, him instructing, me hunched over the dough, Gene laughing, until I finally got a wild three-step going: Push, flip ’n turn. Push, flip ’n turn. Push, flip ’n turn!
Soon bread was rising in four pans and in a circular... flowerpot. Momma got the crazy idea for this eight-inch-wide clay pot from a cooking magazine. “Why not try it?” she had said with a shrug. “It’s like the French bakeware of the nineteenth century.” She immediately went to the garden store and bought one. That was the start of the whimsical flowerpot loaf.
“I’m going to take a tax.” Dad would grin as he pulled out the now-baked bread, sawed off a crust and layered on butter. A large quarter chunk for him and the rest for me.
Dad never worried about the miles of mess he left behind. I headed up his cleanup crew, along with Gene and our older siblings Johnny (fourteen) and Liz (sixteen). We soaped up the mixing bowl. We wiped flour handprints off cabinet fronts. We scraped dried dough from the strangest places: the side of the Waring blender, the yellow breadbox painted with three smiling daisies, a flower vase left by the sink, and even removed chunks from the dog’s dish.
Fortunately, Dad’s oatmeal bread was divine. And that fresh bread and a large friendly dose of his attention while baking it were the best antidotes for pre-teen angst.
One day the flowerpot loaf disappeared. Out of the five loaves Dad and I had made, the round one disappeared. Vanished. No explanation. Later that afternoon I pieced together what happened....