My uncle was a gourmet chef. He was also a judge. I adored him. As a little girl he would take time to teach me about all of the herbs that he grew in his garden. When we would travel to North Carolina on vacation we would hike the mountains, stopping, so he could show me sassafras root and what it looked like. He often rubbed the herbs in his fingers and would have me smell each one. He was quiet and loving. Every Christmas he either handed down one of his cook books or bought me a new one. I was to be the next chef in the family. I loved to try new dishes and made everything in every cookbook he ever gave me.
I discovered some Thanksgiving photographs that we took each year at his house. It was my favorite day of the year. My entire life we had Thanksgiving there. His camera on a tripod ticking down to take the picture of all of us and our dinner before we ate. We each had our seats that we sat in every year. Nana had her spot, his mother had his. My mother had hers. My aunt had hers. Chairs would be added as the years went past. One for my daughter. One for my cousin’s husband. One for my husband. Some chairs were empty. Nana passed away. My uncle’s mother passed away. But then the seats were filled by children and additions to the family. Thanksgiving made by a gourmet chef was always a sight to behold and a flavor like no other. The spread on the table, the taste of every bite of every morsel was savored. I can picture him in the kitchen with his big apron on. A man of many talents. He could sit in his judge’s chair with his robe on and then switch that out for an apron to fix the most spectacular meals. He also knew how to be mindful. He sat on the deck of his house with his pipe on the porch swing with me and I would rest my head on his shoulder. He always took time for me. He is out in the big wide world somewhere I hope having the time of his life. I don’t know because none of the family speaks to me anymore. I still think of him though with fondness.
Someone told me recently they were a chef and I asked a few questions with laughable responses. When you know a REAL chef then you know if olive oil should remain in the fridge or on the counter. My uncle was a real man. He knew how to be strong and he knew how to be gentle. Watching him in court was always a wide eyed experience. He was just so big and powerful up there. He never misused his power though. He was as men should be; Knowing when to switch the robe for the apron and taking time to smell the herbs between your fingers.
Thanksgiving isn’t the same anymore. I don’t look forward to it. I hope the day just passes. I know it has gone on for them the same as it always has. I wonder who took my and my daughter and my husband’s chairs at the table. I wonder if my uncle smokes his pipe still and if he does does he think of me as fondly as I think of him. I hope so.
I stopped being able to make dishes like his cookbooks as my finger were affected with Lyme and my muscles too weak to stand and chop. But I do think of him when I add a dash of this or that to the vegan meals I will make for my daughter.
I threw away all of the cookbooks. They were a sad reminder of what was but will never be again. I’d rather the memories in my own mind come when ready. Those of the smell of his pipe and his soft beard.