I was attempting to explain life to a friend. You start out with lofty goals. You understand the importance of things. You seek happiness. I suppose it is best explained using the simple example of food. Everybody needs to eat. You try different foods and you find that some you like, some you don’t, some you love and some you hate. Regardless, you know you have to eat.
At my core, I am a hamburger or pizza type of guy. I guess it is comfort food. I can make it myself. I can get it at a fast food stop and it is served at fine restaurants. It has always been there. I can remember stopping by my parents house in the summer. The grill would be going. I would be bringing a couple steaks over for me and my dad. He would always make the same offer. “Can I throw a couple burgers on the grill for you?” I loved those char-coaled burgers. At the time, I was usually in a hurry and did not realize how I would miss sitting in his back yard with him. Memories of things he shared, bits and pieces of the things that made him the man he was still tumble around in the faded corners of my mind.
Life moves on. I discovered different restaurants had different ways of preparing a burger. Pizza joints had different crusts and sauces. Sausage could be crumbled or sliced. There was a great deal of variety in the world. I was like most folks. I got hungry every day. My diet of burgers and pizza’s expanded. I entered a world of fried chicken, beans and rice, biscuits and gravy, spaghetti and meatballs, roast beef and lasagna. Everyone prepared meals in a different fashion. I will forever remember the joy of tasting red eye sausage gravy on hot biscuits during my stay in Gate City. The sun had barely crept over the horizon, the animals had been fed and it was breakfast time.
Of course, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that the finest fried chicken is prepared in lard. It is a toss up between the saint of Derwood (Helen Shumaker) and the good church ladies in the Shrimpboat neighborhood in Anacostia as to who might have prepared the best fried chicken. To be fair, Mother Shumaker cooked fried chicken every Sunday for a house full of folks. Her dining table was surrounded by her husband, sons and son’s in law, daughters and daughter’s in law and grandchildren. It was a weekly feast. Savory is not enough of a description. It was truly a family affair. Now the good church ladies would be preparing Sunday meals on Saturday night. I was lucky enough to join a few fellows in a covert climb up a fire escape on a mission of chicken pilfery. We would quietly move up, one floor at a time, until we reached the window that radiated a epicurean aroma. One of the women would spot us and offer, “you boys go ahead and take a piece of chicken and go on out of here”. Midnight on a Saturday night never tasted so good.
Time passes and things changed. Hamburgers and pizza remained. The world spins out of your control. You still have to eat.
I moved on and into the world of fine dining. I ate at different restaurants. Most of them did not offer burgers or pizza. I tried it all. One thing I discovered. Who you eat with impacts you almost as much as what you eat. I learned to really enjoy food that was blackened. New Orleans’s cuisine was reawakened in my palate. Blackened pork chops, shrimp etouffee, gumbo and jambalaya became sought after dishes. Better cuts of meat were offered and enjoyed. Sadly, as good as the food happened to be, it was difficult to enjoy a meal. You can not have fond memories of what is served if everything around the experience is negative.
I went back to burgers and pizza. At least then, I knew what I was getting and I could refuel when necessary, regardless of the people around me.
Then, just when I was convinced that life would go on with nothing more than my comfort food, I began to enjoy getting out. I realized that the unpleasant past was not the food but the company. I discovered that if you stand up and move forward, you can enjoy any meal. I had eat in, I had take out and I had delivery. I can not remember a time when I enjoyed meals as often. I know there was never a time before when I looked forward to eating. From Spring through Summer, from Summer through Fall, from Fall through the Winter, from Winter to Spring….it was the finest year. I was free to enjoy whatever I wanted. I never went hungry. I never realized how much sharing truly enhanced any experience.
But, all things must pass. As Summer began, those meals I loved became harder to come by. Life changes. The outside world creeps in. People change. Melancholy is not a pretty place, but it certainly is nicer than regret. I had the opportunity to enjoy a years worth of delight. Every now and then, I still have the chance to enjoy a great meal. That happiness drifts into regret as the time between meals increases. It is not enough to remember when.
So, like I said, life’s lesson … it constantly changes … enjoy the good, nothing lasts forever.
Didn’t Shakespeare share “it is better to have loved and lost than never loved at all”?
What the hell, I still have burgers and pizza. I still have my appetite, I have learned there is no shame in finding comfort in the simple things.