I was the undisputed king of salsa in my house once, balancing the burn with the sweetness and brightening it all with lime, salt and herbs until it skated the edge between too painful to eat and too tasty to stop scooping up.
And then I found out the only reason I held my crown was because my oldest son had never felt like wearing it.
The day he took a shine to it, he effortlessly hit a better balance with all the flavors, showed me how to improve the texture and dethroned me while I was too busy eating to even notice. I was pretty sure I’d worked out his secrets over the past few months, and I even thought I had a shot at reclaiming the title. Then about a week ago he raised the bar with a phone call.
“Dad, can I use your tools and the extra fence pickets to build a garden?”
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I was at the office, so I quizzed him on safety until I was sure that he, his brother and the dog would have as many limbs when I got home as they did when I’d left and then gave him my OK. By the time I pulled into the backyard a few hours later, both of my boys were putting the finishing touches on a two-chamber box garden.
I gave up trying to grow anything behind the house years ago. All the trees back there have kept the place nice and cool in the summer, but the refreshing shade also spared the clover and wild onion competition from a real lawn because almost nothing else could get enough sunlight.
A couple of those trees have come down since my wife and I bought the house, though, and it looks like the new salsa king noticed there’s a spot between the fence and his old swing set that gets great light in the mornings now. That’s just where he and his little brother pushed a wheelbarrow full of supplies and spent an afternoon framing in their garden.
Then they got Grandma and Grandpa to take them to the home improvement store to pick up a few bags of good soil and some plants.
Not just any plants. A little jalapeno plant and an habanero, cilantro and tomatoes. Most of what he needs to not only keep his salsa crown, but to make sure that any challenge I mount leaves him able to say, “Yeah, but you didn’t grow the ingredients yourself.”
I should have seen it coming.
For a 10-year-old picky eater, he sure loves to cook. I was proud of him a couple weeks ago at one of his Boy Scout campouts when I overheard the scoutmaster tell an older boy that the first year scouts — my son’s group — was doing so well making breakfast on their own that they didn’t need any help. There was the salsa king as one of the cooks.
The night before, he and a friend had set up their campsite without adult help.
I love to see that sense of independence he’s building and the things he’s choosing to accomplish with it. The garden’s part of that, but darn it, I feel too young to already have a son who can knock me off my throne.
The salsa crown is lost to me. The boy is pretty good in the kitchen and he’s managed to keep the plants out back thriving so far.
He doesn’t know how to brew any of my ales, though, and now I’m in no hurry to teach him. One day he’ll turn 21 and maybe I’ll start getting questions about malts and what kind of soil hops thrive in. But there’s still 11 years to savor my reign as the family’s king of beers.
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.