“Making the Best of Life,” June 6, 2023

This column is from 2022.

My dad was a simple man. He loved simple food, like the cornbread his mother baked every day. Simple people, who never tried to put on airs. And simple pleasures, like hunting and fishing and being with me.

I loved most everything about him. He could also be what my mother called “hard to figure,” but I didn’t mind. I was a little hard to figure myself.

Dad grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, hunting, fishing and farming. He married my mother when he was 25. She was 15. They moved a few miles from the farm, near the mill where he worked different shifts every week.

My sister was born two years later. For a while, they were happy. When WWII began, Dad enlisted in the army. My mother begged him not to go, but he said he felt he had no choice.

He was shot crossing the Rhine River into Germany, and spent a month recovering in a military hospital. Finally, he was discharged and returned home to his family and his mountains and his job at the mill.

I was born a few years later. My mother never forgave him for going off to the war. They divorced when I was 2, and Dad moved back to the farm. I lived with my mother, but often spent weekends with him. He’d pick me up on Friday, and on our way to the farm he’d say, “A weekend’s not forever, but we’ll make the best of it.”

And we always did. He taught me how to ride a horse, milk a cow, slop a pig, drive a tractor … and that you don’t have to live in the same house with someone to know that they love you.

He also tried to teach me to fish, until he realized I’d much rather talk than bait a hook. Like most good parents, he taught by example more than by words. He kept every promise. Showed up on time. Worked hard at the mill, harder on the farm. Tipped waitresses at the cafe for ham and grits or just a cup of coffee. If I needed him, he was only a phone call away. And he never forgot to thank his mother for her cooking.

He loved her cornbread. So did I. But I’d never do what he did. At the end of a meal, he’d crumble a hunk of cornbread in a glass of buttermilk and spoon up every bite. I called it a waste of good cornbread. He called it making a good thing better.

We weren’t alike in every respect. But he was my dad, and I am _ and will always be _ his daughter, a simple woman, who loves simple food, simple people and simple pleasures.

He’s been gone for 30 years, but I remember him clearly and think of him often, in the same way I hope my children will remember and think of me.

Last night, in a rare mood, I decided to make a Boston cream pie. Never mind why. I just wanted one. As you may know, it’s actually a cake. I found a recipe online: Bake one layer of a cake, split it in half, fill it with custard, put the halves back together and cover it with chocolate sauce.

Sounds easy, huh? You also have to make the custard and chocolate sauce. I did it all in about three hours, thinking “this thing better be good.” After it chilled, I cut two slices, one each for my husband and me.

It was pretty good. Not great. My husband said he liked it, but he’s learned not to complain. The cake was dry. It looked a little like cornbread. Suddenly, I knew what to do. I cut two more slices, one for each of us. But this time, before serving, I crumbled them up a bit and drizzled them with milk. And “pretty good” got a lot better.

My dad would’ve loved it. Maybe not as much as he loved cornbread in buttermilk. But he’d be proud I remembered what he taught me.

Life is a lot like cooking. We can’t make everything the way we want it to be. But we can make the best of what we’re given.

The next time I want a Boston cream pie? I’ll buy one.


  1. Funny you should post this column. I made a Boston Cream Pie for my husband’s birthday in May. I got about the same reaction – it’s ok. It may not have been the best, but I enjoyed making it anyway!
    I love reading your previous columns each week, and sure miss you writing new ones!
    Blessings to you and your family

  2. Katie Musgrave says

    Sweet memories. Now I’d like a Boston cream donut. Thank you very much! 😀

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