You may think the word fanatical is just more of my tedious and inevitable hyperbolizing, but my old man was a liberal Republican from the Pacific Northwest, where "process is our most important product," and popcorn, for him, was all about process.
He'd put a large skillet on a hot burner with a little corn oil and exactly three (3) kernels of popcorn.
It's as important as just about anything to wait until all three of the test kernels are detonated before, pouring carefully -- not dumping -- the rest of the corn into the hot pan.
Of utmost importance: put on the lid!
Shake the pan as the popping begins slowly, increasing into a madness that’ll make a small child who's unused to such kitchen violence cry out. Then suddenly, except for scattered gunfire, it's over, peace and quiet reigns again.
My dad was always patient waiting for the last shot to be fired. He left the pan on the burner as long as possible to minimalize unexploded ordinance which were then called “old maids” but are now called “widows,” out of respect for older, single women, a demogrphic appreciated more today than then.
He'd repeat this process several times, filling my mother's huge striped brown and beige ceramic bread bowl panful by panful, pouring in melted butter layer by layer, and tossing it all with two table knives.
Then, let me be clear -- and only then -- would he add salt. He believed butter contained enough salt, and only after careful tasting would he add more.
This mixing was a thorough process that took way too long for the hungry and impatient kids haunting the kitchen during this long process, He'd say that there should be butter on each and every piece, and he didn't stop mixing until that was true.
Then he'd spread an odd collection of wooden salad bowls, ceramic cereal dishes, a stainless mixing bowl or two and mete out the popcorn among them. Then he'd take the bread bowl to his chair and his book.
He was the kind of guy who loved to polish brass, the silver, and the family's shoes; he did it with the same deliberateness that he made popcorn. Since he was a banker and politician, polishing shoes was about limit of his maintenance skills, but he did them methodically and perfectly.
The old man would collect all the scuffed leather shoes in the house -- I can still see the reflection of his face in the shiny toes. He'd let the chickens get fungus, the lawn could jungle-ify, but we ate popcorn with the butter perfectly distributed among the kernels, and we trod through our childhood in shoes that bespoke the decency of our upbringing.
My dad was raised like an only child; born late in his parents’ life, his sisters much older. He was the only boy-child, fair-haired, and treasured. Although they owned the bank in our small town, his parents were Kansas farmers at heart and had no notions of better-than-you. His task, growing up in the Depression as he described it, was to make sure that everyone liked him despite his family's having more. Even though it really wasn't that much more, he was embarrassed by what they had and it shaped his life. He worshipped at the Shrine of Looking Good and gave everything he had to the Goodwill of Everybody Else.
He was loved by all, and to prove it, he ran for election and never lost a race. His was a frantic schedule of taking temperatures and slapping backs; the immediate family was left at home, barely surviving him years before his death.
As he lay dying years later, I held those soft, hands so deft at spiffing up the surfaces; spreading the butter so that everyone thought they were getting their share; or wiping the tears of somebody else’s woman.
My kids throw a bag of popcorn in the microwave and say they like what comes out better than the stuff I make using my dad's skillet and bowls and butter knives. They're full of shit, of course, and have no taste, but I persist performing his measured ritual.
Its yield, I find, is more than a just popcorn.