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MY DAD wasn’t big on church. True, he drove us to Sunday services without grumbling and he always basso-profundo-ed a rousing, improvised harmony during hymn-singing. But, he did this out of love for my mom, who insisted we attend. She thought this was what a proper family should do. And, my dad thought my mom was the sun, the moon, and the stars — perfection in white gloves and a well-trimmed hat — and would do anything to make her happy.
I’m sure my dad rued leaving the coziness of his bed to get dressed in a suit and tie, sit on the hardest of hardwood pews, and try to reflect on the glory of God while shifting from one numb butt cheek to another. He must have been relieved as the years passed, because, as we grew, the pressure from my mom diminished. By the time I, the baby of the family, had turned 12, both of my parents stopped churchgoing. And that was that. We never went back.
But when I and my brother and sister were young and my dad dragged himself and the rest of us to church, there was one day each year when he was downright enthusiastic about attending. It was always in June when the church announced the Strawberry Social that my dad found a renewed spurt of religious fervour. Because, if there was any food he adored, it was strawberry shortcake.
And not just any old version of it, either.
According to my dad, our church ruled when it came to producing first rate shortcakes. It took a small army of our congregation’s best bakers to create the most cloud-like of homemade biscuit slabs. They hand-whipped and subtly sweetened the freshest local cream. Most important of all, they cornered the market in small-in-size but huge-in-flavour Ontario strawberries, and practised Christian generosity in lacing them liberally into the final product.
To my dad, the church ladies’ shortcake was manna, food for the soul, and a complete religious experience. Each year, as he took his first bite of that season’s strawberry concoction, his eyes would close and a look of ecstasy would melt away the care creases on his face. I believe he would have spoken in tongues, had his mouth not been so stuffed with creamy strawberry perfection. He never ate more than his share, but he eked out more satisfaction from every morsel than anyone else in the parish. To him, this was heaven on earth.
In the car, on the way home from the annual Social, my dad sang. Reverently. Sincerely. “For the fruit of all creation,” he boomed in his sonorous, deep voice. My mother, in the passenger seat, smiled and used her hankie to wipe an errant streak of whipped cream from his cheek. And we kids sat in the back, stuffed to the brim with strawberry sugariness, for once too full to argue with each other, and knew that all was right in our world.