The advent of Father's Day has me thinking about Bill Wood, because even though he didn't cook, my father's life experiences and his attitudes about food ultimately did help to shape my culinary consciousness. Daddy grew up in the small Panhandle town of Post. I know he was exposed to good cooking growing up because my grandmother, Jennie Miller Wood Flowers Scharbauer, was well-known for her scandalous multiple marriages, her cooking skills, and the generosity of her table in a boarding house, a catering business, and finally a cafe she operated during his childhood. (He saw how hard Jennie worked – he insisted my sisters and I all get college educations so we wouldn't have to cook for a living. We all graduated; I cooked anyway.) Bill enlisted in the service to pay for college and was called up in 1941. His hopes of becoming a pilot were dashed when it was discovered he was colorblind, and he was assigned as a cook in an Army weapons company, supposedly because of his tenuous family connection to the restaurant business. He hated every minute of it. He told me more than once he'd done all the cooking he ever needed to do on his "European tour," and he left the cooking in our Midland household strictly up to my mother, with a few caveats: no Spam – ever; sandwiches were for picnics; soups were for sick people. He did appreciate a good restaurant, however, and I have him to thank for introducing me to rare beef (never served at my mother's table) and for my early exposure to good Tex-Mex food. He thought nothing of piling us into the car for the 30-mile drive to Odessa for a meal at a Mexican restaurant called Manuel's on I-20, and pilgrimages to the old El Matamoros were required when visiting Austin. I'm convinced my lifelong interest in food service was born out of my utter fascination with the soda fountain in Daddy's downtown Midland drugstore, and, coincidentally, it's the only place I ever remember him cooking – big, buttery grilled cheese sandwiches on the flattop griddle. Bill Wood died of lung cancer in 1976 at the age of 55. I'm convinced he would have been a wiz with personal computers and would have loved the Internet, but I often wonder what he would think of my career as a food writer and restaurant reviewer. I imagine consulting him on the quality of restaurant oysters (he loved them; I don't eat them), and I fantasize about introducing him to the diverse cuisines of Interior Mexico. I miss him terribly.
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