When I was a little girl, my Dad was the plate cleaner in the family. When we couldn’t eat every bite of food on our plates, Dad came around and took care of things. Waste not, want not. It was virtuous to have a clean plate, and with his help, we did. Dad grew up in a family of four hungry farm boys. I’m sure eating everything on your plate was never a problem around that kitchen table. Judging by how Dad ate every part of a chicken –from gristle to gizzard to skin–gave me a clue that nothing was ever wasted.
Dad took pride in finishing things off. He was made for the job. From my earliest memories, Dad was the Commander of Dead Soldiers. I remember watching him, time after time, open the fridge and bring out any containers of partial bits of food, leftovers, or stray odds and ends. He’d line them up on the counter or table and then create his mid-day meal, killing the stragglers, one by one.
When a container was emptied, he’d stand it upright, and with pride, announce, “Dead Soldier!” One by one, the Dead Soldiers lined up on the table in a row. The more there were, the more complete the victory. He took great pride in his conquests. If a container had more than could be eaten, it was reluctantly resigned back to its ranks in the fridge, to await the battlefront at the next meal.
Dead Soldiers die on in our kitchen. There is never a time when I finish off a bit of leftovers or a jug of milk or a bottle of catsup or anything in the fridge without thinking the words, “Dead Soldier!” My battle dead do not number those of my Dad’s, but the pride in the deed lives on.