It wasn't often that Mom was away at dinner time, but when she was, she usually prepared something that Dad could heat up and serve up on the table for dinner. Our family rarely ate out at restaurants. It was a really special occasion when we did, and it certainly was not something we did for convenience in those days. We went to restaurants as a family for celebration, so we did not go to a restaurant without Mom. That just wouldn't be fair.
On those rare evenings when Dad was left to his own devices to prepare dinner for us, we had popcorn.
Dad loved having popcorn for dinner, and we were part of his ritual of preparation from beginning to end. He told us all about how often he had this special dinner of popcorn when he was growing up. Our kernels came from Kinokuniya, the imported food store in downtown Tokyo, or was shipped to us in care packages from America. Not to be overly dramatic about this, but having popcorn was one of the ways we were reminded that we were American.
First, Dad coated the bottom of the stainless steel pan with some vegetable oil. Then, we watched as he cut open the bright colorful American plastic bag of corn kernels, and poured them in to the metal pan, making a loud noise.
Then, Dad placed the pan on the stove, and we gathered in close to listen for the first pop. I always wished I could see the popping and not just hear it, but of course, that was impossible with the metal pans. We silently waited, still as we could be, so as not to make any unexpected noises that would take away from the excitement of hearing that first kernel hit the lid of the pan. When we heard it, that first lone popper, we looked at each other's faces to be re-assured, that yes, that was a pop.
Slowly, gradually, more and more kernels popped, and in no time there were so many kernels popping in rapid succession that we couldn't tell them apart. That was the best part. It was out of control!! As the popping died down, Dad shook the pan over the stove to make sure that as many kernels as possible would pop, and slowly, slowly, the energy and sounds from the pan died down. Sometimes Dad included enough in the pan that the white jewels began to lift the lid off of the pan. I secretly wished for it to overflow and cover the top of the stove.
When the popping was finished, Dad salted it and tossed it in a mixing bowl. Then, the three of us sat at the card table in the kitchen rather than the dining room table where we usually ate dinner. Dad scooped the popcorn out of the pan with the bowls he would set in front of us for dinner. Finally, just before we said the blessing, he retrieved the cold glass bottle of milk from the refrigerator, and poured it over our hot popcorn. We ate it with a spoon, just like Dad did when he was a little boy.
My family does not eat popcorn for dinner. We don't pour milk on our popcorn, either. Our popcorn is popped in a microwave in a paper bag that expands and we throw away in the trash. My family won't be carrying on that tradition, much to my Dad's dismay, but I will always have great memories of pop corn for dinner at the little square card table in the kitchen in Mitaka.