I have attended a fair number of weddings including two of my own. Most of the weddings I’ve attended were viewed from the perspective of the kitchen. I typically “dressed” in a white apron and not a dark suit. But this “wedding season” I was a guest at four weddings on four successive Saturdays. These were all weddings of young couples — the children of friends and family.
Young weddings are splendid moments of optimism and hope. Like planting seeds in springtime, we believe that with nurturing, our seeds will sprout, blossom and bear summer’s fruit and vegetables. I shared in the joy of these young couples and their families — as music blared and bodies of various shapes, sizes and ages writhed on dance floors. However, at each wedding I could not avoid the shadow of my middle age. By middle age (I’m 63) one cannot have escaped the knowledge that as surely as summer follows spring, fall brings frost and winter waits. Do these loving couples understand that love does not conquer all, that not every child is born in full health with unlimited potential, that parents get sick? I am not suggesting that these young people may not have had their struggles to reach their wedding days. I know that they have. But by middle age awareness of life’s struggles become a part of you – a part of the roots that hold you in place in your world. These couple’s wedding celebrations may have been the most innocently joyful day of the rest of their lives.
In my younger days I liked milk chocolate. Now, I prefer the more complex taste of bittersweet chocolate. But not without some longing for the simpler sweetness of milk.
Squeezed into my weddings marathon was a Sunday graduation of an extended family member. The graduation was at a school for learning disabled children. In my early 20’s I taught cooking to learning disabled children at Philadelphia’s Green Tree School. I cite The Green Tree Cafe, where my students ran a little once-a-week “restaurant” for the school’s staff, as my first restaurant. On this Sunday, the school’s headmaster recounted how these graduates arrived at the school deeply handicapped, some with difficulty walking, some visually impaired, all struggling to learn. They often came from places where they experienced ridicule. I am aware of the debate over “main-streaming” learning disabled children – that is, not segregating them from “normal children.” But at this wonderful school, these similarly challenged children found acceptance among a group of peers that had previously been elusive outside their families. As family and friends waited inside a big, hot tent, the graduates took their final “wander” around the campus and waived good-bye to the school, a lovely ritual of passage. Then they proudly marched in, accompanied by the wail of bagpipes. It was a contrast to my son Noah’s graduation last summer from George Washington University, set on the mall with the United States Capital as the backdrop.
As these beautiful children sat together on stage and took turns accepting honors, making speeches and accepting diplomas, I found myself deeply moved by, at once, acute awareness of their struggles and joy in their success. It was a reminder that, in the end, it is our capacity to reach our potential that is the true measure of character. These kids will not run for congress, be captains of industry or push forward a cure for cancer. But by any measure that counts, they have established the foundation of a successful life.
And a Funeral
This past weekend, a dear friend died. Stuart Feldman was 73. For four years he battled multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow, that finally left him inadequately defended from infection. Stuart was a remarkable man whose civic accomplishments warranted an editorial in Thursday’s Philadelphia Inquirer and a long obituary in the Washington Post. An obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer will appear on Sunday.
Stuart deeply loved my wife and my wife deeply loved Stuart — in ways that exemplified and transcended friendship. Over the past year or so, Christina and I would go with Stuart to his oncologist appointments, to listen, ask questions, and weigh the treatment options. Stuart had a fierce capacity to fight without complaint.
A weak and frail Stuart went into the hospital Thursday evening. Christina and Stuart’s friend John Pierson spent much of Friday with him, leaving only to join visiting Pascal, Manou and Maelle — our friends and At Home’s illustrator and his family — and I for dinner at Sang Kee in West Philadelphia. Saturday, again was a hospital day for Christina, punctuated by another dinner, this time at home with our friends. Around 11:15 PM the hospital called to report that Stuart’s blood pressure was dropping. We rushed to HUP and I dropped Christina at the curb while I went to park. Christina rushed to Stuart’s bedside. They say that hearing is the last sense to go. While one can’t know what Stuart heard, I know that Christina made sure Stuart knew he was not alone and that she loved him..something I am sure he already knew. Within ten minutes, Stuart died. It was if he was waiting for Christina.
In their love for one another I learned forever that love is not finite or a zero sum game. Christina’s love for me is not diminished by her love of Stuart. And Stuart’s love for Christina became for me something to be marveled at and appreciated. And, in turn, I loved him for it.
It has been a difficult year with Izzy’s death in February, my mother’s death in March and now Stuart’s death. The shadow of middle age deepened.
Wednesday’s funeral service came to its end with the rabbi’s words from Ecclesiastes 3:1:
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted….
On the Road: The Farm Stands of Mercer County, NJ and Easy Pickles
A benefit of middle aged roots is a heightened desire to go slower and lead a more intentional life, informed by both spring and winter. It is summertime. Time to pluck up that which is planted. Stuart’s death made it impossible for me to write a farm stand blog this week. I am back on the road today — with Christina — so next week look for another On the Road: The Farm Stands of Mercer County, NJ. In the meantime, I will publish an Easy Pickles recipe tomorrow. I already published a cucumber recipe — Cold Cucumber Soup with Yogurt and Dill. I was not planning another. But I did pickle Mr. Tkach’s kirby cukes and recorded the process. So, absent another farm stand recipe this week, more cucumbers! The recipe does not require the usual “canning” — just make an aromatic brine, pour the hot brine over the cucumbers and refrigerate. Easy!
Chestnut Hill Book Festival Regrets
Last Saturday’s rain postponed my planned Chestnut Hill Book Festival appearance at Laurel Hill Gardens. Stuart’s death on Saturday night made my re-scheduled appearance on Sunday impossible. I am sorry if I disappointed anyone. I am seeing if Laurel Hill Gardens wants to re-schedule. I will keep you posted.
Thank you for visiting.
Your Home Entertaining Coach