Cole Slaw, Enigma, and Fred

Today I’m writing about Fred. He died last year, and today was his memorial, in Florida. His wife picked a date near his birthday, telling us it was a party to celebrate his life, because that’s what he wanted. We would have attended, but couldn’t, so I’m writing this instead.

I didn’t really know him very well, but he knew me all my life, which is both weird, and normal, I guess, in extended relationships between families. Relationships that go back so far there may as well be a blood connection.

When I moved back to California in 1998, after three years in South Dakota, it was to work for my mother again, but in the process I was re-introduced to life-long family friends Cheryl and Fred (to me they were a unit), and got to meet them as a grown up. (I know Cheryl better, of course, because I SAW her every day for a year, at work. But this is about Fred.)

He was a large man, with a personality that was at once forceful and gentle. His opinions were always offered laced with sardonic humour. His voice reminded me of the baker from the old Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood show, sort of phlegmy and creamy: New Jersey mixed with the filling of a chocolate eclair. And really, since he was a cook, it was the perfect sort of voice to have.

He spoke the language of food as casually as the rest of us chat about last night’s episode of The West Wing, but he produced culinary wonders, running the gamut from braised lamb chops and garlic mashed potatoes, to barbecued ribs and cole slaw. (In fact, I, who detest cole slaw, LOVED his version.)

He was more than just a chef, though. He spoke two other languages that I responded to: geek, and music. It’s the latter that floored me more than the former, however, because he got me hooked on music I’d never expected someone of my parents’ generation to appreciate. Specifically, he introduced me to Enigma, music I’d previously only heard at a few skating shows. Clubby, dark, sensuous music with an almost tribal pulse running through it, married to Gregorian chant, of all things.

I never knew much about him, and for most of my life he was little more than a name, and a presence at the periphery of my world, but the presence became a person, someone I could listen to forever, just because I liked his voice, and someone I’ll always remember with fondness and respect.

I’m sitting here now, listening to Enigma, and drinking strong coffee, toasting to Fred. I’m pretty sure that he’s someplace where the cheesecake is the perfect texture, the espresso is divine, the net never lags, and the music never stops.