My father was one of my earliest buds, someone who seemed to inherently “get” me when so many others, and specifically my own self did not. I could hang out with him for hours feeling no pressure to be anything other than me. Some thought he was too casual, detached and perhaps even aloof but I knew of him differently, he was the one with which I could simply hang out with and be. No expectations, no airs, an intolerance for bullshit, we would spend hours making mixed tapes on a Saturday morning sharing our love of music.
He was much more comfortable hanging around his garage mastering the art of the putter, preferring to live in jeans and a tee shirt rather than a tie and suit. I think I saw him dressed up a few times in his life, and both of those times he did not look altogether comfortable. One of my fondest memories of him was sharing our love of old cars. He even snuck me into the front passenger seat of one of many of his old hot rods for drag races when I was nine to the chagrin of the officials at the end of the line who would scold him for allowing a child to partake. Of course, I would ignore them, begging him to sneak me in again for the next thrill ride.
When I was older, right before he passed away, this was what we partook in together in a Minnesota basement while he was succumbing to cancer. There was no mention of disease, just a four hour long dialogue together about music on the couch while the Indy 500 played on the television set. It was then that he told me that I should never feel the need to change for others, that one day I would learn the value of letting the ones who truly “got” me to become naturally attracted to me.
Throughout my life, one of these friends who naturally was attracted to the real me was found in Leslie; one of my closest gals who I don’t have to be the sophisticated writer or artist around but instead, can revert to a twelve year old who wants to play in the garden and ride bikes. When I met her parents Gloria and Dan a few years back, I felt an instant sense of family in their embracing of my quirks that has sustained an important gap where my dad’s absence has always been felt. Recently, on a trip to the desert, I found myself spending a lot of time with them, preferring their down-to-earthiness for any other social occasion and found myself invited to their home for a night of hearty cioppino.
I was thrilled to spend time with them and get to know them better. At the door, I took off my shoes and was handed a pair of fluffy socks by Gloria, put on while enjoying the smells of rich broth emanating from her amazing open kitchen. She told me that the recipe she was making that evening was from the book Trattoria Grappolo Simple Recipes for Traditional Italian Cuisine procured on their visit to the Santa Ynez, California bistro of the same name. We enjoyed her special cakes of goat cheese rolled in nuts that accompanied our salads while waiting for the fish stew to simmer. A light red wine was shared as we ate the lighter version of the classic dish accentuated with flaky salmon, scallops, shrimp and shelled delights of the sea. A perfect chocolate mousse was a nicely light end to our gluttony, which came with the low rolling belly sounds of those contented by nourishment.
Just prior to dinner, Dan gave me a tour of the home that was capped off by a visit to his garage, home to a bevy of shining classic cars that evoked instant memories of my father. It was then that I realized how much Dan was like my dad – loving, no nonsense and the bearer of girls who also knew the value of just simply being. Between he and Gloria, I felt encompassed in the kind of love that makes the belly swell and mid-dinner I had to quell a tear of gratitude for the whole experience.
The simplest forms of appreciation in life don’t arrive at the tail end of blaring trumpets but tiptoe up quietly around a dinner table, fueled by conversation between those who enjoy just being together with no other lofty regard than to enjoy the company of others. For that I am eternally blessed.