101 Uses for Chopsticks: The Day I Realized I’m Turning into my Dad.

The pot of pasta was on the stove and about to boil over. I reached frantically into the drawer for a wooden spoon but, finding none, grabbed a pair of wooden chopsticks instead and stirred the pot, laid them neatly on the rim and then started laughing hysterically.

I’m turning into my Dad.

To be fair, Dad doesn’t use actual chopsticks. He uses skewers, which he buys in bulk at the local market for cheap because the writing on the package is in a language that no one can translate. He doesn’t “skew” with them, ironically. He does do everything else though. He uses them to make scrambled eggs, stir his tea, test the chicken, make pot roast. I’m pretty sure he made a pie with them once. They make killer toothpicks. Those skewers get washed until they have splinters, then Dad uses them to put the seed packets on in the garden to mark the plants, unless one of us gets to them first and throws them out.

Multipurpose instruments.
Multipurpose instruments.

It has become a bit of a family joke now, Dad and his skewers. When any of us comes over to my parents house, we throw away all of the used ones that are lying around the kitchen, along with the hundreds of plastic bread clips, smelly sponges and the dishtowel that was still there from the last visit. There is no such thing as a disposable plate. Not to say that Dad doesn’t use paper plates; no, he just uses them repeatedly for every task from eating to cutting vegetables to feeding the chickens table scraps. A lot of toast gets eaten on those plates. A single plate may have been the temporary resting place for at least four days worth of breakfast foods, if it’s lucky.

Dad has a “guy” at the market that he has somehow convinced to barter with him, even though it’s 2015 and bartering isn’t the standard currency in suburban Maryland. A healthy looking bunch of basil (Dad says his “guy’s” basil was weak and pathetic looking) for a few packages of skewers and he’s set. He’s on a first name basis with the check out lady at the Dollar Tree, and the Goodwill gets excited when he pulls up. They are holding a parade in his honor, and he is being crowned Best Customer Ever.

Dad rigs things up in the house in a way that makes MacGyver look like an amateur.  Got a problem? No you don’t! A little bit of electrical tape, an old pencil, a flip flop and a piece of string and your problem is solved. Drafty door? Rice filled tube sock. Leaky faucet? A loofah sponge he grew himself. (A bit of a story inside of a story, but did you know that the loofah sponge comes from a vegetable that is then dried out? It’s awesome, except that the seeds fall out every time you use it, which can be disturbing if you’re sitting in a bathtub.)

Dad wasn’t born until 1947, so he wasn’t raised in the Depression Era. He was, however, raised by parents who were. No one in my family (on either side, by the way) has thrown away anything more significant than a gum wrapper since 1963. “Waste not, want not” is the motto of our childhoods and it stuck…partially.  Dad’s creative Tech Ed teacher brain, the house and sheds full of generations worth of “stuff” (for lack of a better word) are more than enough to fix any problem. Combine that with his “contacts” in the dollar store world, and he and Mom live comfortably in their retirement all for the price of a few hearty basil leaves.

Which brings me back to the chopsticks. My initial reaction when I realized what I was doing was hysteria, then confusion, then acceptance. All of the normal stages of grief when you realize you’re turning into your parents. We give Dad a hard time about the skewers and the plates and the Mr. Fix It rigs everywhere, but when it comes down to it, there’s no one whom I’d rather become (other than the obsession with crocs). He’s resourceful, creative and clever. Dad never wastes something if he can do something else with it later. He doesn’t look at a bag of skewers and think “stab meat and vegetables”. He thinks outside the box. I’m not sure he even knows what the box is. He didn’t mean to be a role model, it’s just how he was made.

We should all strive to find more ways to use skewers. Be creative and resourceful. Use things until we can’t use them anymore and then find a new use for them. Dad is the poster child for unconscious environmentalism. He doesn’t save the Earth by driving a Prius and buying organic cotton, he just uses everything until it turns to ashes, then uses the ashes to fertilize the garden.

Until the end of my days, there are things that will remind me of my Dad. Slapstick humor, the smell of motor oil and freshly cut grass. Anything to do with gardening clogs. And food on skewers. If you see me tear up at a cookout, look around for the kebabs and know that I’m thinking about my Dad and wondering what he’s doing with his skewers today.

Love you, Dad. Skewer on!