When Father's Day rolls around, I always get a little sentimental thinking about my dad.
This year I'm remembering about the time, maybe 35 years ago, when we lived in Dayton, my mom and dad were visiting and he helped me plant an apple tree in our back yard.
"If this thing takes off," he said, "don't forget to tell everyone that I planted it. "But if it dies," he went on, "don't mention my name." Several months later, we sold the house and moved to Florida and left the fate of the apple tree in the new owner's hands.
For years, I had no idea how the old apple tree fared; actually, I don't think I ever gave it too much thought. But years later, on a visit back to Dayton, I had the opportunity to view that tree that my dad and I had planted from the next-door neighbor's back porch. It was standing tall and proud and full of apples. I told my neighbor, "My dad planted that tree, you know, and he wanted me to tell everybody he did it -- but only if it took off -- and I see it certainly has and so I'm telling you now."
She replied that oh, yes, she remembered my dad and all his funny stories.
It seems everybody remembers my dad. I never went anywhere in a 50-mile radius of Lafferty, Ohio but that at least a dozen people would come up to him, call him by name and carry on a long friendly conversation. He'd talk and joke around with them and in parting, he'd sometimes, say, "See you later, boy."
I'd ask, "Who was that?" Most of the time he would rattle off their name and tell me the history of their entire family. And others times he'd admit, "You know, I can't remember who that was." But they always knew him.
From his pool-playing, hair cutting days at the old Branz Grill, and his ice cream dipping, hamburger slinging days at The Dine-A-Mite in Lafferty, where I spent all my happy childhood days, to his bartending days at Third Base, his roadside tavern in Morristown, and his post-retirement "career" at the St. Clairsville courthouse, everybody knew "Stump" Branz and thought the world of him.
A faithful reader of this column, he once told me, "I don't always understand it, but I always read it." "And," he added, I like it best when you mention my name."
Well, I'm mentioning his name today -- Ernie Branz -- world's greatest Pirate's fan and a legend in his own time. Even all the grandkids and great grandkids called him Ernie -- and he loved it!
Sadly, Ernie's been gone for almost 20 years now -- up to that big baseball diamond in the sky. And if Heaven truly is a place where all our dreams come true, he's close to a baseball stadium, joking around with all his old cronies, (probably arguing with my Mother,) enjoying a big piece of homemade coconut cream pie -- one of his favorites. And the Pirates are always winning!
ERNIE'S FAVORITE COCONUT CREAM PIE
(Lena Branz's recipe)
1 pre-baked 9" pie crust1/4 cup flour 1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt1-1/2 cups milk, scalded 3 egg yolks
2 Tbsp. butter1/2 tsp. vanilla
Mix flour, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Add half the scalded milk and stir vigorously until well blended. Add remaining milk and cook until thick and smooth, stirring constantly. In a small bowl, beat egg yolks well, stir in a little of the hot milk mixture (to temper the eggs and keep them from cooking), the pour all back into the saucepan. Cook and stir for two minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. Pour into prepared pie crust and cool while making meringue:
Beat three egg whites until soft peaks are formed. Gradually beat in 1/3 cup sugar and beat until smooth and shiny. Pile meringue onto cooled pie, sealing to crust all around. Sprinkle shredded or flaked coconut over top, then bake in a 350° pre-heated oven for about 15 minutes, until meringue is golden brown coconut is dark and toasted.
Note: Some people add a little coconut to the cream filling, but I don't recall my mother ever doing that.