Linda G. Hill has picked date as our SoCS word. (Note the new banner!)
We often write that a story or a poem is bittersweet; containing contrasting elements. OED: arousing pleasure tinged with sadness or pain; sweet drink with a bitter after taste; woody nightshade. I’m working on a date serial story, with a couple of twists, away from the blog for now, so instead I will talk about a bittersweet friendship on a bittersweet day.
Denise and I lived across the driveway from each other. She was pixie-sized with a round, welcoming or pensive face and impossibly curly hair. She was a chef, not a cook, so she operated in a male-dominated world (late 1970s-early 80s). At the time we met, she worked in the kitchen of the hotel with the restaurant – no small potatoes, she was good having gone to one culinary school. Her dream was to go to one in Britain – a dream encouraged by her older lover and colleague. So she was building cred and saving $ which is one of the reasons she moved in with me for the last few months before she left for London, England.
No I wasn’t treated to gourmet meals at home; she was a grazer – chefs tend to be which didn’t help her Type 1 Diabetes (since age 7). She was serious yet lax about her condition. I was the one who noticed the effects of her not testing her blood often enough, or hounded her about seeing the doctors. She knew what they’d say about her kidneys and her sight, so she skipped it as much as possible.
But this isn’t the story about the blind cookery instructor at an important cookery institute – that was years in the future. I’m writing about a rough time for both of us and what we did one magic Sunday.
At my urging, and with the backing of her brothers, she left the position at the hotel. Her relationship with the colleague could jeopardize her career, and despite his constant pleas to leave his wife . . . . I was never sure who actually ended it. Him because she was leaving his restaurant, or her because she finally realized she would always be the mistress.
She became the chef for a small, funky restaurant with a good reputation that wanted to take things up a notch in ingredients, use of local products and presentation. Denise was perfect for the position, but she was over-working herself. Always pushing to prove she was as good as any man in the kitchen, and that Type 1 – then called Juvenile diabetes – wouldn’t slow her down, she overdid it. She didn’t have the minions in her new digs, and she was creating as well as cooking. When she was short a dessert chef, she stepped in, dragging me along as her minion.
So, on Sunday mornings, I’d go into to help. My pay: left over desserts, or the poorly cut edges of squares – in other words I worked for food. One of my jobs was to keep stirring this huge pot of dates becoming the filling for the most incredible date squares. So, I stirred, drank good coffee, tasted the paste, added the maple syrup. I crumbled the butter for the crust, fetched and carried. After date squares, (thick bottom crust), it was a double crust apple crisp; the huge dark chocolate chip cookies or oat cakes, still have scars from grating 16 tons of carrots for carrot cake with cream-cheese icing. But made with all natural ingredients, very little sugar, less butter and cream and in general then much lower in calories and such. She could do it too.
That Sunday she was really up, considering the break-up really floored her. She’d gone on a couple of dates. Note: pixies are the most dated women in the universe; I was not a pixie. Was soon off to London as part of a group musical tour for her final interviews. This woman was the most incredible packer I’ve ever seen – this is stream of consciousness. She could have made a living packing executives’ suitcases! I was nearing one of my many cross roads – but didn’t know it. Going to head into a deep depression and what I now know is mixed mood, rapid and long cycling bipolar 2, changing my life that way too.
Bittersweet because we had so much fun that day. She felt good, I was a few steps away from the edge of the abyss. So we played silly games like making up names for dishes for the menu, or best and worst together in a meal, kitchen games. We’d been having more failing outs – she was always busy with the restaurant, and I wasn’t spending time at home or with her. It was a no-win as she won’t take a night off to kick back and I was seeing someone off and on. A friend recently stepped in as a peace maker, and that day was our attempt to swing things back around.
If our friendship had ended there – fond memories of aromas and tastes – I could say it was sweet. But there was/is a bitter aftertaste to those sweet drinks of companionship in the kitchen. Once she left for London then Edinburgh, I made the bitter aftertaste in not keeping up with our friendship. Bipolar with major mood disorder doesn’t absolve me of not being there, and distance kept us part is no excuse when she needed me the most. This is a hard self-forgiveness to work on.
But, we didn’t know any of that then. When I was making coffee, I heard her say behind me. “Oopps, mis-cut this pan of date squares, guess we’ll have to eat some to even it up.” So we sat with steaming mugs of coffee (I had whipped cream on top of mine), small bits of date squares watching the world from the kitchen’s huge upstairs window on a pleasant Sunday in Fall. A date I like to remember. Think I’ll add a few things to today’s grocery list in Denise’s honour. She’d have liked that.
© taleweavering phylor, 2016