The Hangover Part Two, Or The Importance of Hydration

18 Jan

In the previous post, I left off just after talking about being keenly aware of the privilege I experienced in my father lending me money, while still having some other business owners finding what I started out with to be laughably infinitesimal.  A friend of mine commented that, while it was a privilege to get that loan, that it was tiny and that it’s to my credit that we’ve come so far, starting out with so little.

Two things to that; one, I mostly wanted to highlight economic disparities with that comment.  What seems like an impossibly unworkable amount of capital to one person sounds like an impossibly unattainable windfall to another, and there we see that the dividing line of opportunity is really a gaping chasm.  It’s one that I straddle nowhere near as gracefully as I’d like.  You don’t easily switch from the feast-or-famine mindset (where “feast” is really just being able to buy the components of a healthy, well-balanced meal that I actually want to eat) to the maintaining responsible growth strategies mindset.  You have no idea how much it freaks me out that I am responsible for paychecks that feed several staff and their families.  If I fuck up, it’s not just me that bears the consequences.

And it’s not like I could have pulled this off on sheer chutzpah, hard work and a can-do attitude.  I had that, too, but it wouldn’t have worked if I didn’t have at least *some* cash on the barrelhead.  People with far more talent and determination than I go everyday without that opportunity.

The second; though I have no credit cards nor line of credit with the bank (I’m just happy that they let me keep my checking account open), I have not been without financial assistance.  The total is still comfortably in the laughable range, but it’s kept our heads above water when I thought I was drowning, and more than deserves to be acknowledged. In the past three years, my cousin made a loan to me, and repayment has been in smaller and slower drips than either of us like.  We also had a crowd-sourced fundraiser to finance our first move (that probably would have been a lot more successful had I not been too embarrassed to promote it), and a couple who are regulars popped out of the woodwork when they found out that I’d bitten off more than I could chew with the first move to the ginormo-space in White Center.  While I pay a comparatively high wage to the crew, there have been times that I’ve asked them to accept their pay late (and, sometimes, they do the math themselves on a slow weekend, and volunteer to wait a couple of days.  Geez.  The fact that that ever happens pains me to the point of nausea, but I am more deeply grateful than I know how to express.  They deserve more than a parenthetical statement, and if I manage to pull this off, I’ll make sure they get something more tangible than my gratitude.) In addition to that, I know that a lot of our customers very deliberately drove out of their way and chose to spend their breakfast dollars at our place, just to support us.  (Okay, I hear you all like the food, too.)

As an aside, I am listening to Patti Smith covering Rihanna’s “Stay” at her 67th birthday party.  I want to be Patti Smith when I grow up, but my spirit animal for 2014 is Dorothy Parker.  Next year, maybe, I can be as fierce as Patti without being as hard as Dorothy.  If you haven’t read Patti’s “Just Kids” yet, you should.  For me, that book felt like it could have happened a few years ago, at my old house.  But it happened 30+ years ago, and 3000 miles away.  It felt like making a new friend.

Meander’s first kitchen was pure, utter magic.  It was nine bar stools on a coffee counter that surrounded the cook’s line.  There was a tiny triple compartment dish sink at one end of the cook’s line, and we hand washed and sanitized the dishes.  The refrigerators and a freezer were in the back, and, in the cleaning frenzy, we’d kept the toys that Wah had collected over the years.  We also kept the windchimes that chimed by the door every time someone came in.  That sound came to replace, in my mind, the sound of the kitchen ticket printer.  Every cook out there knows exactly what I’m talking about.  It’s like air raid sirens, and it becomes ingrained in your subconscious.

We even kept a small, curved mirror mounted in a weird spot that had become my secret joke, once I discovered it’s purpose.  The shop was basically laid out like a shotgun house; narrow store front, but long all the way to the back of the building.  The mirror was hung midway back, near the bathroom.  One day I was situated just so, glanced up, and realized that the mirror was set up so that, if you left the bathroom door open, you could be seated on the throne and still have a clear view of the front door.  High fives, Wah, you clever fellow.

There was a spot on the wall, old plaster covered in paper board and lots of paint, that was crumbling to bits because of old rain damage from a roof leak.  I stood back and considered it.  The proper thing to do would have been to tear out the whole chunk of wall and replace it with drywall.  I didn’t have the resources to do that, and, once upon a time I’d been a sculptor.  So I knocked out all the loose bits, wire brushed it, patched in some wire mesh, and used stucco repair compound to put a patch of swirly bits into the wall.  No bits of plaster crumbling into your food, and a bit of added interest.  Win/win.  I may have even swirled a little note into it, if you were paying attention.  Someone was peering in the windows while I did it, because I never bothered to paper over the windows during renovation, the way folks do.  I think they thought I was weird.

Our red formica counter was forever peeling up in one spot.  We duct taped it.  It started coming up in other spots.  We found a note tucked under it, congratulating the finder for being the sort of person who looked in unexpected places.  We liked it, so we put it back and left it unglued and untaped.

We.

At the very, very first, it was just me.  That lasted about a day.  First one dear, old friend came to help me get the place going, then another, and another, each as they passed through town and their own lives and their own needs, and mine.  That’s been a thing.  Old friends.

Si, Jay, Avery, Kara, Chase, Kelly, Afton, Ela, Maya, Ed, Deb, Isaac, Paula, Claire, Kelly, Ben, Grady, Lukas, Janelle, Lorraine, Rose, Sean.  Some of those are old friends, some were folks I thought I could be friends with, and hired.  Some were people I just had a really good feeling about.  Mileage varied.  Some I miss very, very deeply.  Others, not so much.  Some, I know it was time for them to go do other things, and have nothing but all the love for.  Of those from the first space, one is still here (besides me).  Isaac, you’re a fucking rock.
Every single one brought some element of their story to bear on the shaping of the place.  It has never really been just me; I get a little hinkey when folks talk about it like it is.

So I opened the door that first day, and Marcia showed up.  She’d been waiting.  Before the place had been Jade West, it had been Nate & Kate’s for 40 years, and that was Marcia’s family.  I was in her house; damn good thing she liked me.  (Helped that I was a dear friend of one of her good friends’ daughters…I joked that Marcia sponsored my West Seattle citizenship.)  Sydni showed up, too.  She noticed that I was hand whipping my cream, and using a pastry bag.  Next day, she dropped by with a whip cream dispenser, complete with CO2 chargers, ’cause, you know, she just had one laying around.  She took pictures of our french toast, helped Mama Sherri, another long time neighbor, to a seat and some breakfast.  Syd has pretty severe health issues of her own, but somehow always manages to be there for everyone else.  If there’s a fundraiser or a walkathon or a homeless encampment getting the shaft or pretty much any sort of social injustice, Syd is probably standing or walking or raising hell right in the middle of it, in spite of constant pain.  I’m exhausted just thinking about her.

These were the people who greeted me on my arrival, and they set the tone.

More tomorrow?  Or Sunday?  Soon.  I’m supposed to go to a masquerade tomorrow, so I shouldn’t promise to have anything worth saying.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Hangover

17 Jan

I’ve been wanting to write here again for some time, but I got all caught up with settling into the new space and then the holidays hit me like a ton of bricks.  I get stuck, writing around the holidays.  Oh, sure I’m always busy.  It’s tense, too, because in the restaurant business, you just don’t know what’s going to happen around the holidays.  You expect to be blitzed, but what happens if the crowds don’t come?

We usually start getting really busy right after Thanksgiving.  This year, I nipped out for a two and a half day trip to New York just before it was supposed to hit.  The crew had the highest day of sales we’ve had in this space on the day I flew out of town, and handled it gracefully and lovingly.  Astro laughed at me because I told them not to call me with updates unless something went wrong, and then I couldn’t help but call from the hotel room right after I checked in, just to see if everything was ok.

And then sales tanked by nearly half the next weekend.  And they stayed that way the next.  Sweating bullets, I was, and heaving self-recriminations for indulging in that trip.  By Christmas week we were back up again, but it was a tough hit; one shared by many other businesses this year, as I understood it.  Then the hood fan died.  Then the walk in cooler died.  Uh, huh.

That’s not why the holidays always get me, though.  I lost my Mom 17 years ago December 21, and my daughter was born December 13 the following year.  I’ve been estranged from her side of the family since her memorial service for reasons I won’t go into here, and also from one of my two brothers.  This year, he contacted me over facebook to invite me to a chat with several of the cousins from that side of the family.  It was kind of an ambush, especially because the younger cousins didn’t know most of the history of why we haven’t been in touch. It seems like a lot of dredging up painful pasts to lay it out there when asked, and I’ve remained distant.  I’m not sure what to say.

So.  Though I wrote much about that, I’m going to leave it in the ‘saved drafts’ bin for now.  I did have a lovely Christmas Day, at home with my father & his wife Ping, my daughter, her father & his girlfriend, and his sister & a friend of hers.  We ate lots of good things, laughed and did Madlibs, and admired the tree that kiddo decorated herself this year.  I played Bing Crosby.  It was good.

I feel like I’m finally shaking off the daze and muddle that often accompanies the holidays, though, and I wanted to write about the restaurant.

I’ve had a few folks ask me how I came to open Meander’s Kitchen.  Honestly?

The short answer is, my Dad lent me money for a down payment on off-grid acreage so that I could start my ecotourism/B&B that would allow me to take guests to the farm on the way to the table.  After several offers I made fell through, funds were starting to dwindle.  I had recently come back from a summer job as a chef and deckhand on a 54′ ketch, and wasn’t sure if I should try to find a job in town, since it looked like I’d be headed out to the woods soon.  Money kept dwindling, as it does, so I started talking to the folks at the Wildrose about doing a brunch pop-up at their bar, which sounded like an awesome plan to me.  Then I got to talking with the folks at the coffee shop that was my home two blocks away from home, C&P Coffee, and they seemed pretty keen on the idea of a breakfast spot right there in our neighborhood.  Pete and Frank told me to go check out the old Jade West spot, and there we were.

I prepaid six months rent, and me and a really sweet friend went down and started scrubbing and painting.  For those of you that don’t know, Jade West was a tiny Chinese restaurant owned and operated by Wah.  Wah had been a neighborhood fixture for 20 years or so, and was much loved.  He and his son were struck by a drunk driver while unloading luggage from a family trip in their own driveway.  Wah is a little older, and was slow to recover the energy he’d had, and his son lost a leg.  Salina, Wah’s wife, was not physically injured, but has felt lasting effects.  They locked the doors and the shop sat for a year, until they leased it to me.  They are dear, sweet people, and went out on a limb for me.

After being locked up mostly untouched for a year, there was a lot of scrubbing to do.  I signed the lease in December, and by the time I opened in January, I didn’t have any money left.  I prepped my first batch of gravy, unlocked the doors and crossed my fingers.

When friends of mine ask me how I did it, I am keenly aware of the privilege of having my father loan me money.  When I talk with other business owners and they find out how little I started with, they tell me what big balls I have.  It’s a weird, in-between place.  The shop is always busy on the weekends, but we have always struggled.  I’ve never had a credit card or line of credit from the bank, and no more capital cushion than that first six month’s of rent paid off.

We’re still here.  Our three year anniversary is in ten days.  I simultaneously can’t believe it’s made it this far, and don’t have anything but vague memories of ever having done anything else.

I think that I will call it a night right here.  I gotta get up and cover a shift for one of our crew, who, incidentally, was hit by a drunk driver.  Hey, assholes, quit driving drunk.  I mean it.  Knock that shit off.

I’ll come back to this story tomorrow, yeah?

Punk House Hash

24 Oct

You know, I really meant to do a post on or around my birthday, and somehow a full month has already slipped by.  It was a big birthday for me; 39. I re-read my post on Hospitality, and think of this as a continuation of that, in many ways.

Subconsciously, I’ve been thinking of this upcoming year as the night before a big homework assignment is due.  I tell everyone that it’s my big pre-funk party, this year, but I want to have My Shit Together when the big 4-0 hits.  It’s an arbitrary mileage marker, but it’ll do.  And here 1/12th of it has already zipped right on by.  It’s cool.  I was still doing the reading, and taking notes.

A few weeks back, I had this weird date with a guy I don’t know very well.  I bought the date at a fundraiser auction, which makes it even more weird.  Whatever; he cooked for me.  That almost never happens.

We talked a lot, and he said something that stuck really hard.  We were talking about the shop, and how because of it, people sometimes talk to me like I’m someone “Important”, and how I don’t really know what to do with that.  I told him that I keep waiting for people to figure out that I’m the same old punk kid I ever was.  I’ve said that before, to plenty of people, but he said something no one’s ever said to me.  He said, “Maybe it’s time for you you to figure out that you’re not.”

Well, shit.

Then what am I?  Who do I want to be when I grow up?  Is there a deadline looming on that?  Because it kind of feels like there is.  What does a grown up punk look like?  Was I out back smoking when they rang the last bell on putting childish things aside?  ‘Cause it kind of feels like that, too.  I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.

When I think of punk, I think of band names, back patches, Christmas tree spikes painstakingly applied by hand to leather jackets.  I think of my friend Doc Molotov reading political treatises in Pioneer Square in Portland, just before he drank enough beer to fell a full grown moose.  That was the day I met him.  I think I was 16.

Standing in the kitchen of a house painted entirely black, cooking tremendous batches of chopped potatoes & dumpstered vegetables with whole chunks of garlic & tons of nutritional yeast for whatever group of people had rolled into town and sung songs around our fire the night before.  I think of the bike workshop the guys built in the backyard, the stage we built out back for the pirate radio station benefit show (and no one even noticed the transmitter strapped to our chimney), the motorcycle parked out front of the house and the boy from Kansas it belonged to who taught me to bake bread, the thirty people we fed, and the stick-and-poke tattoo of a wheat stalk I got, just so that I would always remember how much love I felt with him that night.  I think of the rain coming down like a Kentucky thunder storm, the 20-odd naked bodies in the mud, the dozen at a time crammed into the shower like overgrown children sloughing off mud and pain, and the ringing of laughter when I would chase their asses out of the kitchen when I was trying to make gravy.    And I remember every time I cried because they hurt too much to stop hurting themselves.

And here I can’t help but think of my Great Aunt Leone and my grandmother again, and the stern looks and sharp tongues tempered with humor. How they fixed things when they broke, rather than throw them away.  Gramma and Aunt Leone were punk as fuck.   Because to me, being punk has always been about seeing clearly, even if the powers that be told you that your eyes deceived you.  It’s always been about taking care of your family, chosen or otherwise, doing better, reading all the books, listening to all the music, continuing to learn, laughing your ass off, fixing what was broken, and arching an eyebrow into the most eloquent “fuck you” you’ve ever seen on an as-needed basis.

I may not be a kid anymore, but I want to be a punk when I grow up.

Hospitality

22 Aug

This won’t seem related to hospitality at first, but follow along with me long enough to get there. 

I belong to a group on facebook that is centered around a place that offered services and a sense of family for a lot of us street kids and gutter punks back in Portland, called the Greenhouse.  (I lived with my Mom in PDX for part of my youthful days, and I ended up on the streets on and off during the ages of 16 to 18, until I moved to Seattle…totally not her fault, for the record.)  The people who staffed that place pretty much all qualify for sainthood. 

There are some recent posts in the group about some of the old haunts that bring back some heavy duty memories (Quality Pie, Rocky Horror at the Clinton St Theater and the old Witch’s House, notably), the way a scent will bring back a memory you’re pretty sure you could touch, so long as you don’t chase it away by opening your eyes. This also feels the way a nightmare does, and I’m not always sure that I *can* open my eyes again, if I allow myself to fall into these memories. 

In those days, I was questioned with friends about another friend whose body was discovered in a park.  She’d gotten a ride home after a show, and been murdered.  I blocked that memory for a lot of years, until reminded by a dear old friend who wanted me to know that her killer had died in prison.  Thankfully, he was able to deal with the sudden racking sobs in the middle of a bar when it all came flooding back.  Bless you, Ryan, and thank you for helping me to remember and for being there in the aftermath.

That was probably the worst single thing, but sometimes it felt as if the culmination of a million things every day was a constant campaign to grind the humanity out of a body with concrete and rock salt.  You never had a chance to heal, you were just constantly raw.

Bittersweet.  For a while, I lived in a studio apartment upstairs from a drag bar.  One of my roommates was probably one of those most beautiful drag queens I’d ever met, and another roommate was a good friend whose mother had sued for custody of her two children.  Her mother won after the court was presented with evidence that my friend was bisexual.  My friend was hooking to pay the legal fees to try to get them back.  I had a boyfriend then, who worked in a restaurant; he’d steal blocks of cheese, packages of tortillas, fresh garlic and chocolate for us. This has indelibly affected my eating habits, to this day.  (Again, thank you Ryan.)  When Measure 9 was on the ballot, back in ’92, it lumped homosexuality in with pedophilia and was an attempt to legally declare homosexuality perverse and against the decency and interests of the state.  I sat in a living room upstairs from that bar with everyone else in the building watching election results, not a dry eye in the house, while that measure was defeated, and gay bashers cruised the streets of our neighborhoods with baseball bats.  I was still too young to vote.

 

There are a lot of threads in this facebook group, about people looking for old friends.  Some of them I knew, some of them I had intense personal interactions with, and some just sound kind of familiar.  A lot, lot of them are dead, or somebody says they see them hanging out on a particular corner a lot, or they’re in prison, or they died in prison.  At least one of them was, oddly, a coworker of my mother’s, and I’m watching the thread to see if contact info for him pans out.  I don’t know what I’d say to him; perhaps hello, although then I’d have to tell him that Mom passed in ’96.  Maybe I just want another person to share memories with.

There were some intensely good memories.  Nights spent playing in fountains, chess games in all night diners, all night underwear-clad gin rummy tournaments, meeting amazing people who gave me books that trebled my brain capacity, and food.  I had an apartment for a while, furnished with a couch, an end table and a coffee maker courtesy of my Mom…the carafe had broken, so I used a beat up sauce pan to hold the brewed coffee.  And sometimes a group of folks would go get food boxes from one of the local churches.  They’d bring them to my place, and we’d play Iron Chef before we knew what that was.  What to do with a a quart of Grey Poupon and a box of whole wheat lasagna noodles?  Frankly, I think Iron Chef got the idea from us. 

Other times, I’d couch surf.  If you are couch surfing, it’s understood that you should do something to contribute to the household.  So I’d cook and wash up after.  You tell me; what do you cook for eight people when, quite literally, the only food in the place is a box of biscuit mix, a jar of peanut butter and a can of government commodity pork?  As in, the white paper labeled can with the blue line drawing of a pig on it, and the mess of gelatinous goo inside.  Anyone?  Necessity is very much the mother of invention.

I’ll be 39 years old next month.  I can’t remember, but I think it’s your 30th birthday that qualifies you for the golden shopping cart award in the punk pantheon.  It’s a real thing, with some folks.  Maybe it’s 35.  I don’t know if there’s a thing for 40; I’m not so sure that folks plan that far ahead.

When I was 24 or 25, my sister ran away from home.  She went to Portland.  I knew just where to find her.  She was really mad at me.  There was a serial killer targeting girls on the streets in PDX at that time.  She came to live with me for the summer.  I did my best, but I didn’t know much, then.  Still, it set a precedent.

The summer before I turned 30, I hitch hiked for the first time, and I ate mushrooms for the first time since I was 19. I lived in Olympia, but commuted to a fancy pants job with a large non-profit in Seattle. It was good.  I had a house, and my sister put me together with an amazing woman to be my roommate, and to help me with childcare for my daughter.  Kiddo was six then, I think.  Other people joined our house, good people, sad people, people who strove to be joyful.  My sister says that it was all my idea, and the words of invitation did come from my mouth, but I think that my sister magnetized our house & me, the way that a magnet can lend its properties to steel.  Good people who were hell bent on trying to make good things seem to find their way to our house.  I remember leaving for work one morning, and seeing an old school bus decorated circus-stylie laboring up the hill in the opposite direction; I knew, and, sure enough, they were parked in our yard by the end of the night.  For my 30th birthday, they decorated the house with a banner made of bras and tissue paper from the free box at the food co-op, and a parade of dancing clowns putting on a fire show presented me with a stack of buckwheat birthday pancakes while playing trashcan lid drums.  This life; never in a million years would I trade it for anything else.

A lot of people that I love now, I met when I was just turning 30, and they were in their teens or early twenties.  When I see the posts on the Greenhouse group, talking about who has died, I think of these friends of mine.  Some of them are doing amazing good things; raising children, adopting, taking the bar exam, fighting for good things.  One friend of mine is part of The People’s House in Olympia, the recent recipient of a $400,000 grant to open a homeless shelter…geez, Cassie, you are so starkly and beautifully amazing.  I want to be you when I grow up.  But some are in other places, and I find myself asking if folks have heard how they’re doing.  Did they manage to kick, and stay clean?  Where are they?  He still drinking?  At least one hung himself.  I don’t know if I want to keep asking.

When I think of hospitality, I think of my Grandmother’s linen table cloths, the good silver, no one willing to take the last piece from the serving platter, and how Gramma always sat in the chair closest to the kitchen during dinner.  I think of my mother and her best friend making Christmas candy together every year for decades.  I think of my father and Don’s passing a communal can of smoked oysters around the fire, eaten with a pocket knife.  I think of a bunch of  gutter punks bringing church food boxes to my teenage apartment.  I think of dumpster diving trips, blocks of illicit cheese, Gramma’s prized tomatoes, and serving food in the park in Oly with Food Not Bombs, and the pot luck punk house Thanksgiving with three turkeys and Jesse’s green bean casserole made with foraged chanterelle cream sauce.  I think of Stone Soup.  I think of how, when Mom’s cancer was really sucking, she asked me to make her grilled cheese and tomato soup, and how my daughter asks me to make her the same thing when she feels poorly.

When I think of hospitality, I think of a roof, and food, and how those things shared create a sanctuary.  I think of how the folks at Greenhouse fed us and gave us so much more, and how, 25 years later, we look to that place to find the people we can’t forget.  I think of catching the scent of my Gram’s house when I use her napkins in a basement apartment dinner party, no matter how many times I wash them, and I am so grateful.

 

 

 

What’s in a name?

6 Aug

So, I started a restaurant a couple of years ago.

Barely.  I mean, it was barely a restaurant.  Ed calls it the “anti-restaurant”, but I hadn’t thought far enough ahead to qualify it for such a lofty mission statement. It just kind of happened.

In retrospect, I should have started this bloggy thing years ago.  You may have to jump and skip around in time with me a bit, if you’re interested in the ride.

What I mean is that it was very literally just a kitchen surrounded by a coffee counter, and not much else.  Ring side seats, two and a half feet from the grill.  Literally.  When flipping omelets, I used to have to be careful to body-block the splash, or else whoever happened to be in seat #7 would get a face-full of hot egg and clarified butter.

The building owners (husband & wife) agreed to lease the space to me, equipment included, in spite of my wretched credit.  The husband had run a Chinese restaurant from the space for two decades, give or take, and wanted it to go to someone who would take good care of the people in the neighborhood.  He decided that I was that person, but they debated the point for a while.  While I was waiting to hear from them, I decided that I would call it the Compass Rose Cafe.  Friends of mine suggested that I call it Miranda’s Kitchen, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around that kind of self-promotion.

My Dad’s best friend Don nicknamed me Meander when I was probably about five years old, back when they decided I was big enough to go hiking and camping with them.  It described my signature style of making my way through the woods, and, with some folks, the name stuck as I got older.  Don never called me anything but that.  The last time I saw him, I was 36 years old, years separated from my husband, and with a teenaged daughter in tow…and he still greeted my as “Little Baby Meander!”  I have no way to describe the comfort and joy I took from that.

Don and my father are the reason I that I have a deep and abiding fondness for cantankerous men with too much Hemingway and an acerbic wit on hand.  He and my father poo-pooed yuppies and tourists and television and anyone without enough gumption to read a book and fix what was broken all throughout my childhood…they were my heroes, and the whole reason that I learned how to open up the guts of something broken to figure out how to make it work.  And they took me places; I rode in the back of innumerable pickup trucks with the other kids and dogs up mountain roads more times than I can count, and all along the way were wild berries, asparagus, morel mushrooms, and cornmeal-coated rainbow trout so fresh they curled up while cooking in the frying pan.

Over that Thanksgiving visit, that last time, he was simultaneously an old friend, sharing stories from the years we’d missed, and also one of the very few remaining people on earth who make me feel like a child, full of hope and brightness.

We talked and joked and laughed.  Dad went to bed early, and Don chased my cousin Kimbers (his daughter) off by asking me if I knew of any good prostitutes in Seattle in her presence. She rolled her eyes and scurried off to bed, and he and I stayed up drinking, smoking and playing cards.  He told me how much his daughter really meant to him, and he told me that I am much like himself.  He’s not one given to squishy emotional chatter; I was being kinda crass, and he called me out.  Told me that he knew I’d give anyone the shirt off my back, even to my own detriment.  That even if I am eternally disappointed, I’ll keep at it.  It was his self-assessment, but I have never been paid a better compliment in my entire life.

Point being, that was the last time I saw Don.  I got the call in December that I’d gotten the lease on the kitchen.  I was ecstatic.  A few hours later, my father called.  Don had had a heart attack, shoveling the snow from his driveway.  My father’s voice sounded as if it were coming through cold, wet drifts, muffled, and weighted.  Forty years of anchoring each other over the miles and the years.  Of driving old trucks through the mountains, girlfriends, wives and fishing trips and daughters and never having to explain, just being understood.  I think that every year was represented in each syllable that my father spoke.

Don never asked me about the missing years.  I never told him about asking strangers for spare change when I left home, or about the clubs I worked at in Kentucky, the pregnancy when I was 19, or where I went or what I did after.  He never asked, and I am sure that he knew; he allowed me the grace of always being full of hope and brightness, the comfort that the ugly bits were known and excused, and the respite of not having to talk about it.

And that, my darlings, is why I called it Meander’s Kitchen.  Because that is the best I have to give you, in his memory.  That the world is often unkind, that any of us would be fools to diminish or deny that unkindness, but that it should not make us also unkind.  That we can bury the sweetness of ourselves under crassness, under the simplistic demands of loyalty and responsibility and obligation, but that there is always a way to leave the imprint of kindness in our wake…and that it absolutely will make a difference to do so.  You will change someone’s life, with your kindness.