THINGS DAD: The Kansas Years

Sue Webb

"THINGS DAD: The Kansas Years" is a story of father and father and daughter and daughter, and the rhetoric between and around them. From canning hundreds of jars of hot sauce to hosting a hundred people for dinner, Dad taught me through the things he orchestrated, said, grew, cooked, and canned. He made me snap green beans as a penance for abruptly quitting college. He showed me, while pickling beets, that a subdued love is not a lost love. Through him, I learned what girls could do (love football, go to football games) and could not do (go hunting with the boys). We weren’t rural or farm hands or anything like that, but we did grow our own vegetables. As they grew, so did our relationship.

This essay offers just a few moments in time — patches of our lives — providing glimpses not only into this man as a father, but a view of who he taught me to be. Now he's gone, but he left me his recipes and his stories. His recipes help me tell his stories. Through them, Dad is still teaching me things.





Jalapeño Stuffing


Hot Sauce El Webb’O

Tomatoes come in in late summer.  Those Big Boys just hang on their vines until the end of July each year, ripening slowly in the Kansas sun. But, once they were ripe, Dad would invest full weekends making his infamous hot sauce. Each weekend he netted about 21 quarts — a total of 80-100 quarts each summer.

Sure, he’d give you a jar, tell you there wasn’t enough money in the world to pay for it, and make you promise to return it empty. And you wouldn’t get a jar the next year if you had not returned the last one. No empty? Sorry. No El Webb’O for you. Dad would smile when he said it, but he was dead serious. No jar. No sauce. No kidding.

Slightly spicy with a hint of sweet, folks poured the last of the Doritos into a bowl, poured El Webb’O over the crumbs, and ate it with a spoon so as not to waste a single drop.


Pickled Beets

1 bushel beets, washed. Leave 3” of stalk on each beet for cooking or they will bleed out. Boil beets until done (tender if stuck with fork). Peel and slice beets and pack into quart Mason jars (NOTE: never use mayonnaise jars).

1 gallon cider vinegar
½ gallon water
7-10 lbs sugar
2 boxes stick cinnamon
2 packages whole cloves
1 jar celery seed

Bring ingredients to a boil. Strain out solids. Poor over beets in jars. Seal in hot water bath. Store indefinitely.

I will never forget that late-summer day — probably 30 years ago — when I came home with my new Ray Price & Willie Nelson album. I was about 20. Mark, my new boyfriend, had me, normally a hardcore heavy metal fan, listening to country of all things. I put Ray and Willie  on the turntable and sat down in the kitchen. The house held a sweet-tart blended aroma of vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves.

Mom and Dad were in the kitchen, pickling beets together. They didn’t do much of anything together in those days, so seeing them working in concert was quite a surprise.

“Faded Love” started playing, and Dad put down the butcher knife he was using to slice beets and said, “Come here, Momma. Let’s dance.” He took her in his arms, and the two of them slow-danced in the middle of the kitchen floor, holding each other tight, another pot full of beets boiling in the background, until the song ended.

Faded Love

As I read the letter
that you wrote to me
Well it’s you, it’s you
I’m thinking of.
As I read the lines
that to me were so true,
I remember our faded love.

I miss you darlin’ more and more every day
As heaven would miss the stars above
With every heartbeat, I still think of you
And remember our faded love.

As I think of the past and all the pleasures we had
As I watch the mating of the dove
It was in the springtime that you said goodbye
I remember our faded love

I miss you darlin’ more and more every day
As heaven would miss the stars above
With every heartbeat, I still think of you
And remember our faded love.

- Willie Nelson/Ray Price


Row after row of string beans — 2-3 plantings a year — for 25 years.

Part of my penance for moving back home after dropping out of college was to snap green beans, often a bushel at a time.

Dad wouldn’t let me go to Emporia State. Said instead to try WSU first and see how I did. I showed him. I dropped out six weeks into my first semester. Back home and in his face. No credits to my name. Nothing but time on my hands. Dad found a way to fill some of that time.

Dad would go out to the garden and pick in the evenings, then bring the beans to the backyard. He’d wash them off with the garden hose and dump them on the table. We’d snap for hours. He’d drink a few Bud Lights, and despite my dropout status, we’d share a few laughs.  “Take 5 minutes and tell me everything you know,” he’d begin (see: THINGS DAD SAID).

All snapped and half lit, Dad would take the beans inside to cook. 21.5 quarts at a time: green beans, new potatoes, and fresh-picked onions.

"What’s for supper," I’d ask? "Green beans and new potatoes" was the answer — for 5 days straight.

I guess the joke was on me.

From 1965‐1971 we moved around: Springfield, Virginia; Hartford, Connecticut; Fort Worth, Texas; Wichita, Kansas; Salina, Kansas; Wichita, Kansas again; Bremen, Germany; West Suffield, Connecticut; Vernon, Connecticut. In 1971, Pratt & Whitney, whom Dad worked for, planted us in Wichita, Kansas, for the third time. From the air, Kansas closely resembles a king‐sized patchwork quilt, with practically perfect squares, rectangles, and lines all contained within the master rhombus. Mom and Dad bought a house just outside of the city limits — on the north side of Douglas Avenue and just east of Greenwich Road. Here, Dad carved out his own patch of earth. Dad started working that rock‐hard Kansas clay when I was ten. His garden spot measured about 30’ x 50’ — the size of a small house. Dad plowed in late February to prep the soil, then brought in two pickup trucks of horse manure. Come St. Patty’s Day, those seed potatoes were going in — no matter the weather — eyes up. North‐to‐south this year. East‐to‐west the next. 3 rows of potatoes, 3 rows of yellow onions, a row of white onions. Next row: half radishes, half leaf lettuce. All this would lay dormant for weeks — till winter passed on. In early April, Dad sculpted 50 mounds of earth — 10 hills each of cantaloupe, cucumber, pumpkin, zucchini, and summer squash. And row after row of green beans. Around May 1, he’d dig holes for 20 bell pepper plants, 20 jalapeños pepper plants, a few banana pepper plants, and 45 Big Boys.


Every fall Dad grew greens. Dad turned all the vines under from the tomatoes and the squash and the green beans and planted a small field of turnip greens. Pots of greens replaced the pots of green beans before the growing season ended in October.

Then, after the first heavy frost, Dad turned under all the turnips and turned them back into the earth. Gardening done for the year, Dad himself went vegetative. Weeknights were for old John Wayne movies. Weekends were for football. Dad planted himself in his red recliner, lit up a Dutch Master President, sipped on his Jack and water, and waited for spring. Each weekend, he could go through two or three paperbacks from the secondhand bookstore. On occasion, he ventured into the kitchen to cook. This — till plowing time came round each February.


A 24-lb turkey.
Every Thanksgiving.
Not 22 lbs.
Never 18 lbs.
Dad would shop around till he found a 24-pounder and stuffed it with his infamous jalapeño stuffing and roasted it till we were all starving. Even though he put the bird on at 5 a.m., and it was done by 1 p.m., Dad wouldn’t serve dinner till halftime of the second game. Ever.

Dad’s Jalapeño Stuffing

Turkey innards
2‐3 onions
4‐6 green peppers
3‐4 jalapeños
4‐6 stalks celery
Salt, pepper, sage, onion salt, garlic salt
2 packages unseasoned bread crumbs

Boil all ingredients (except crumbs) in water until innards are done. Give innards to cats.

Add crumbs and stir until mixture becomes thick. Stuff into turkey. Bake.


7:00 a.m., Christmas morning, 1983. Mark and I had been out partying all night. We got to the house just in time for Dad to offer Mark a Jack Daniels pre‐breakfast Christmas toast.

Normally, Mark could handle his liquor. Normally, Dad cooked a nice, dry scrambled egg. This morning — neither of those things happened.

Just after eating, Mark promptly went out under the evergreen and gave the eggs and toast back to nature. Dad, quite pleased, mixed himself another Jack and water. I’m pretty sure that was his Christmas present to himself: one-upping his son-in-law-to-be that morning (see: BREAKFAST).


Bob’s Beef Stew

Makes 21.5 qts.

4 chuck roasts (slightly frozen for optimal cutting), trimmed and cubed
10 lbs potatoes, peeled and chunked
1 5‐lb bag carrots, peeled and sliced
2 bunches celery, sliced
10 yellow onions, chopped
6 bell peppers, diced
4 jalapeños, sliced
Salt, pepper, onion salt, garlic salt (to Dad’s taste)

Fill pot the rest of the way with water. Simmer for 4 hours. Add 3 cans of LeSeur Very Early Green Peas. Always serve boiling hot with crackers, preferably in front of a ‘Skins game.

Great for Monday Night Football leftovers. And Tuesday. Still serving it Wednesday. Probably on Thursday.

NOTE: It's really peppery by Thurs. Stop on the way home from work and get more crackers.

NOTE: Reheat very slowly! Scorches easily!



Coors was illegal east of the Rockies in the early 70s. Dad used to load the trunk of Mom’s old ’69 Mercury Monterey for our cross-country Christmas trip — Kansas to Virginia — yes, with our suitcases and Christmas presents, but also with 6 cases of Coors. Two for each brother-in-law.

Later, Burt Reynolds would make millions on this same premise.


Football in the Big D

Annually, for about 15 years, Dad chartered bus trips to Dallas to root for whomever was playing the Cowboys (see: THINGS DAD SAID) — the Packers, the Bengals, the Skins (many times the Skins — they always lost).

$100 per person covered the charter bus, the game ticket, the motel room, all the beer and pop we could drink on the way down and back. Dad shouted “It’s noon somewhere” at 9:00 a.m., and cracked open a Bud. The bus driver shut the doors, and the 2‐day party was on.

Quarter‐ante poker for the first three hours down I‐35. Dad usually gave me a roll of quarters and a roll of halves to bankroll my shot at the winnings.

We’d stop only for lunch at the Furr’s in OKC.  Back on the bus. “Ante up” was the cry.  Three more hours of poker.  There were several games throughout the bus, but the best game was up front, where there was a real table. Up front, where Dad stood up the whole time. Always 7 players playing,  and people ready to buy in as soon as a spot opened up. Each pot was upwards of $40 to $50.

A quick stop at the liquor store in Denton (Texas Stadium was in a dry county); check in at the motel; get cleaned up; go out (dad would rent me a car, and my friends and I would meet Dad and his friends over in Fort Worth to “do” Exchange Street — that is, we’d go to Filthy McNasty’s, the White Elephant Bar, or Billy’s Bob’s); get drunk.

Come Sunday morning, there were Bloody Marys in Bob’s room — for everyone — all included in the $100.

Being Daddy’s girl, I never had to pay.

Load the buses at 10:00 a.m. and off to the stadium. Sometimes Dad had extra tickets. Sometimes he’d have 10 or 15 leftover from folks who cancelled last minute. I always volunteered to stand outside and sell them to the scalpers. If the Cowboys were having an off year, those scalpers only offered about $10 per ticket.

Dad had, on principle, stood there and ripped the tickets into shreds when offered only half of face value. Me, on the other hand, I saw the chance to make a few bucks. I’d sell till the end of the first quarter;  go in the gate; find Dad and hand him a hundred bucks or so, and he’d split it with me. I often ended the weekend with more money than I began with.

One year, I made hundreds of little 2” x 3” confetti papers that said “Fumble for Me Tony D,” and I threw them and yelled it every time Dorsett got the ball. He didn’t disappoint either. He got the ball a lot, but fumbled lots, too. I thought it was great fun. The Cowboy fans, however, were not too accepting.  I sat pretty close to Dad that day.

We did manage to see the Bears whoop the shit out of those ‘Boys 44‐0 in Texas Stadium in ‘85. The Fridge, McMahon, and Walter Payton.

Ah, Sweetness.

Even the Fridge rushed for a touchdown that day. Our group was the only bunch in Texas Stadium hootin’ and hollerin’. At 44-zip, we hooted and hollered a lot.

After the game, we loaded the buses, played poker, and drank beer to OKC. Dined at Furrs. Got back on the buses. Drank and gambled all the way back to Wichita. Home about midnight. Back to work on Monday. Hangovers and all.

Ticket stubb


My brother, Rob, 3 years younger than me, got to go on the annual hunt starting about age 11.

I asked if I could go. Dad said it wasn’t a place for girls. I asked every year — as I finished junior high, then high school, then moved out, moved back home, moved out, got married.

Mark was going. I was not. Those who went changed over time, but Dad took 12 guys 200 miles west out to Sublette Friggin, Kansas, the first Saturday in November, every year, for 30 years.

Mark and I divorced in ’99. He’d still go. My sons got their hunter safety cards. They’d go.

I got my hunter safety card. I still didn’t go.

They’d all, smelling like dirt, pull back into Wichita about dusk on Sunday, wanting to tell me all their stories. I know what songs they listened to (again and again, year after year). I know who slept on the floor and who got a bed. I know if the biscuits were burnt (see: BREAKFAST).  I know the name of the restaurant where they ate. I know who won at poker. Who got too drunk. And even who accidently shot a hen.

Yet, none of this do I know first hand. I guess I should just be thankful that girls got to go on those football trips. Truthfully, I never understood the distinction. Why was football ok, but not hunting? Dad taught me to use a shotgun when I was a kid. I could shoot, but I could not go on that hunting trip.

Kansas Hunter Education seal

Football, yes. Hunting, no. This was the prevailing way.  At least in my family.

I was a girl; I was Daddy’s girl. I was not going to go on that hunting trip.

But I still got to shoot guns. And I never killed a living creature.  Looking back, I’m pretty damn grateful that this was his way.


Fred was a dog I used to own, he used to answer the telephone And every now and then he took the truck to town for groceries.

Me and old Fred got along real well at the checkerboard, old Fred was hell And he never minded takin' his turn doin' the dishes

But when Fred was just about two years old, he started actin' kinda bold Chasin' after that beagle that lived across the highway.

He was down there day and night, and I told him: "Fred, you know you'll have to fight" He said: "I've already whipped everything between here and the railroad!"

Oh, Fred, you are a good dog, But the women got you runnin' wild and crazy as a loon. Fred, you are a good dog, Now you're chasin' cars around the bars and howlin' at the moon.

One night Fred came stragglin' in, he's lookin' bad, but he's wearin' a grin He said: "Boss, I took a wife and I want you to meet her." She didn't have very much to say -- it's plain to see she's in the family way She said: "Fred you better go back and get my suitcase."

But Fred never made it to the other side, right in the middle of the road he died Flattened by a trucker haulin' dogfood. Now his wife is livin' here, yappin' at her kids and drinkin' my beer, and she won't drive the truck, nor do the dishes!

Oh, Fred, you were a good dog, But you never knew when to chase 'em and when to turn around and run. Oh, Fred, you were a good dog, But you're flat out on the highway, a-dryin' in the sun. Now old Fred's gone, and I'm kinda glad, 'cause if he was here now he'd sure be mad... Not one of those pups looks anything like him!

— Ray Stevens


Bob’s Vinegar Sauce

Add to large pot (preferably a 21.5-quart canner):
2 gallons cider vinegar
2 gallons water
8 sticks margarine
4 T salt
4 T black pepper
2 T poultry seasoning
1 T garlic salt
1 T onion salt

Bring to boil.

Warning: This will clear your sinuses.

Invitation to party

150 Invitees
75 chickens (halved, slow-roasted over an open flame)
8 quarts Bob’s Vinegar Sauce
150 baking potatoes (wrapped in foil, dull side out)
20 loaves French bread, sliced, salted, and buttered (oven cooked)
50 sides & desserts (including Carol’s Baked Beans El Webb’O)
50 cups of coffee (to sober folks up before they head home)
200 pounds of charcoal (Kingsford only)

Grilling Instructions:
Spread charcoal within the walls of the fire pit. After charcoal catches, mop grills down with sauce. Arrange chicken halves on the grill. Mop the chicken frequently and turn often. Don’t let the skin burn. Keep a water bottle handy to extinguish flame or even to turn the heat down a few degrees.

“Chicken’s done when I’m good and drunk”

NOTE ON MOP: You might need to buy a mop — a soppy kitchen mop. For best results, attach it with utility wire to a fishing pole for a good long reach over the fire.

CAUTION: Sometimes too much Jack Daniels causes the cook to stumble into the fire. If that’s the case, the chicken is usually done (see: THINGS DAD SAID).


Sunday Morning Breakfast

Feeds 7

18 eggs, scrambled; 2 lbs. bacon; 2 lbs Jimmy Dean Original sausage; 20 biscuits — always burnt on the bottom (see: ANNUAL PHEASANT TRIP) (see: THINGS DAD SAID). But everything else always turned out perfect. Except for that one Christmas morning (see: CHRISTMAS).


“Did I ever tell you the one about the guys who went camping for a week?”

Three guys decide to go camping. They all agreed that they’d draw straws to see who would cook, and the first guy who complained would take over the cooking.

Short Straw Guy cooked and cooked and cooked. He soon grew sick and tired of cooking. No one ever complained. He came up with an idea to get someone to complain.

While the others were out fishing, he went over to the nearest farm, collected up a pot full of horseshit from the pasture, took it back to the campsite, and made horseshit stew for dinner…

“This tastes like horseshit — but, goooood horseshit.”

"Ach to liebe!"

"Hey Mark, why don’t Mexicans barbeque?"

To the grandsons:
“Come over here and I’ll pick you up.
Did you hurt my floor*?”

*wall, truck, cabinet, door, driveway, etc.

"I have two favorite teams every Sunday: The Skins and whoever is playin’ the Cowboys."

"I take back some of the bad things I said about you."
"Sacré bleu."

“You don’t look good, but you look better.”

"Take 5 minutes and tell me everything you know."
"Do something, even if its wrong."
"Remember, 48 is not middle age — how many people do you know who are 96?"
"Come here, Momma. Let’s dance."

Movin’ On

In the post-Kansas years, Dad became a Floridian and I a Michiganian. I went back to school, earned some degrees, and was even working on my PhD. Like tomatoes, I guess I’m kind of a late crop.

Not so long ago, when I was 21 and Dad turned 48, I thought he was pretty damned old. Dad joked that he was, in fact, “older than dirt.” That was 1982.

Now I'm turning 48.

In April 2009, while searching for Dad’s hot sauce recipe, I found the invitation to Dad’s 48th birthday (See:DINNER FOR 150), tucked in with all my cookbooks. This was shortly after Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer.

I called him almost every day that spring. He always answered the phone with “I was just about to call you.” But, he didn’t ever call. He waited for me to do that. It was my turn to look after him.

Dad passed in July 2009. Dad worked the earth for 25 years; now he is the earth.

When I found the invitation to Dad’s 48th birthday party, tucked in with all my recipes, I called Dad and told him what I’d discovered.

Dad said, “If my memory serves me, you will be 48 this year. Damn, Sue, you’re fucking old.”

We laughed.

Blue Money

The photographer smiles Take a break for a while Do your best, your very best

Take five honey.

Search in your bag Light up a fag Think it's a drag, but you're so glad To be alive, honey Alive, honey

Say, when this is all over You'll be in clover We'll go out and spend All a your Blue money (blue money)

Do-do-you-do, n'-do-do-you-do n' do-do-do-you do, n' do-do-do-you-do n' do-do do-do-do-you-do n' do-do, do-do Blue Money. Juice money, loose money Juice money, loose money, honey What kind a money, honey? Juice money, loose money

Blue money.

— Van Morrison

Old photo of father

Suzanne Webb is a Ph.D. candidate at Michigan State University studying Rhetoric & Writing with a concentration in Nonfiction. Sue’s current research interests are the inquiry practices of nonfiction writers, focusing specifically on the essays of David Foster Wallace. Sue’s nonfiction essay “Charms & Chasms” won first place from Women Who Write and was published in their annual journal Calliope in 2009. She interned at The Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction for the 2009-2010 academic year. Sue seeks to “discuss the professional” by “using the personal.”