Go Back to the Place You Were Born

Sometimes teachers strike gold: for a whole week I have the local(ish) poet Tim McNulty hanging out and teaching my Seniors poetry.

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He shared his latest book of poems, Ascendance, and mentioned the photograph on the front. A salmon jumps up Kettle Falls, now damned by the Grand Coulee. Tim went on to talk about the beauty of salmon who “go back to the place they were born.” And he mentioned that line perhaps twice more. It resonated with me.

We were supposed to write about–gawd, I dunno even know what–that’s how fiercely this line sat with me–this idea that where ever I birthed my child, (s)he might have this faint memory of it, this whisper of the room and the light and the soft way N spoke in my ear. That somewhere deep inside his marrow, like a salmon, if instructed, he could “go back to the place he was born.”I haven’t written poetry in eons, and now I can’t quite remember why.

Go Back to the Place You Were Born

Go back to the place you were born
up the back stairs on 1st Street
in the old converted house
whose trillium walls wear
first wails
of new life
where tepid water
fills deep tubs
and a damask duvet covers
a bed on which women’ve labored.

There, on the hardwood planks,
you will find where I curled my toes
and leaked fluids
where your Father whispered in my ears
and massaged the place between my thumb and forefinger.

Go back to that place
where our blue eyes first locked
where time stood still
and our hearts beat
independently
for the first time
because of each other.

A Gift of Hope

I remember when I found out: I was at school, and I’d called my mom just before class started. Something in her voice sounded urgent.

Two words, one diagnosis: Cystic Fibrosis.

My three-month old nephew was now doomed to a fate I’d seen play out in my childhood.

Uncle N and baby Walter

Uncle N and baby Walter

My mind immediately separated into two spheres, one, thinking of my childhood friend, Melissa, who battled the disease and succumbed to it when she was 24, and my sister, thousands of miles away in Germany, tending to a five year-old, a two-year old, and now, a terminally ill infant.

I wanted so badly to call and weep with her. To show up at her house and cook her macaroni and cheese and run my fingers through her hair, to hold her close while wet tears fell between us. We knew what this meant for Walter—we’d watch Melissa live the whole thing. I’d seen the inhalers and nebulizers and hacked up mucus and shortness of breath and the lung transplant and the solidarity of her family and the courage and hope and ultimately, the resignation.

It’s almost a year later and my sister and her family have relocated Stateside, in Spokane. I got to meet Walter for the first time in October, and the little guy is all smiles, and coos and joyful baby love. He doesn’t know he’s sick. He doesn’t know about the football he might not be able to play, the friends who might shun him while he uses his nebulizer, the black tar that might grow and adhere to his lungs. I try not to think about him in his teens or twenties, try not to consider how quickly a cure might progress to let him live to see his forties.

And I cannot, imagine, for the life of me, how my sister wakes up every day, stares into the lake of his blue eyes, and knows that she will likely have to say good-bye to this little love.

It is too much to bear.

So I’m joining her in celebrating Walter’s first (of many, many!) birthday by participating in The Great Strides Walk, a Cystic Fibrosis fundraiser. It’s one of the only things I can give the boy for his birthday that encapsulates the hope I have for him and my sister—the hope of a long, healthy life. Of a cure.

I would LOVE to raise at least $350 to “gift” to this little one, and I wondered if you would help me. I am asking for a $10 donation from each of my friends (and I think I have more than 35 of you!!) You can go here to donate to Walk for Walter.

The addendum to the song “Happy Birthday” says, “and many more.” This is my way of ensuring many more for Little Walter. Because who can imagine a face like this vanishing before its time?

The Happiest Almost 1 Year Old I Know!

The Happiest Almost 1 Year Old I Know!

Thanks for helping me celebrate my nephew’s birthday.

The New Year Mashed Potato Resolution

If you remember last year about this time, I was touting grapefruit and kale in this Come to Jesus Salad. Lest you think that my holiday eating habits were any different this year, I made that salad for a New Year’s Eve dinner as an effort to rid my body of the See’s candy, cream biscuits, Danish kringle, co-op ice cream, and pumpkin cheesecake that forced their way into my mouth.

Gouda and Chive Mashed Potatoes

Gouda and Chive Mashed Potatoes

So you may be confused as to why I am peddling mashed potatoes here. Here, at this juncture when we’ve all sworn off of carbohydrates and creams and sugars. Here, at this crossroads when we’ve three days of clean eating behind us and so many unfettered days of clean eating ahead. Why am I dooming us?

It’s for our own good. Let’s call it preparation. Reinforcement. Investing in our futures. Because down the road, say on a day when work is particularly heinous or the weather cues comfort food or a holiday or child demands mashed potatoes, you will wish you had this recipe tucked away. Let me give you an example. I have a teaching colleague who is going through a divorce; she confided to me in the hallway one day: “I wanted to go out drinking, but the thought of getting myself ready to go out and then the sight a forty-something-getting-a-divorce-woman sitting at a bar by herself on a school night made me want to cry. So instead, I put on my tap shoes and baked cookies. I can picture her now: ensconced in the place where she raised her boys and cooked many suppers for her I’m-dating-someone-younger-and-therefore-better-than-you husband, this woman said The hell with it and breathed new life into an old space. She reinvented a place haunted by memories of her once happy family. She tapped dance while baking cookies. I cannot think of a better temporary cure. Alexanders while you break the eggs, double wings as you mix, and perhaps this little number while the cookies bake to golden perfection.

I imagine if she had been a savory gal, she would have tossed some russets on the stove to boil and made these instead. While tap dancing.

You’re probably still thinking, Linsey, mashed potatoes? And here is where I tell you that every person at our Christmas dinner table swooned over these bad boys. That despite numerous past pillows of fluffy white goodness, these reign supreme. You might just drum up a holiday or false need to whip them up. I’m thinking President’s Day will do the trick. Abe liked potatoes, didn’t he? In fact, these are so good, I think it should be each of our New Year’s Resolutions to make them at least once in the next 362 days. You know you’re going to want carbs come February.

See how happy everyone is when these mashed potatoes land on their plates?

See how happy everyone is when these mashed potatoes land on their plates?

Recipe notes: You, like my mother, might feel compelled to—despite the recipe—pour some of the cream out of the bowl. This is not only sacrilegious, but also cause for hanging in many states. I beseech you to use the full, obscene amount of fat the first time you make these, and then tamper as you wish, at your own risk.

P.S.–If you really want to have a holiday to remember, next year make these mashed potatoes and later force your family–parents included–to play Cards Against Humanity. Holiday of epic proportions.

Mashed Potatoes with Smoked Gouda and Chives

from The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook

  • 2 lbs. russet potatoes
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (whee! a WHOLE STICK!!)
  • 1 cup half and half, warmed (Don’t pull a mama–use it all!)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 4 ounces grates smoked gouda cheese
  • 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh chives
  1. Place potatoes in large saucepan and cover with 1 inch cold water. Bring to boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium low and simmer until potatoes are just tender, 20-30 minutes. Drain.
  2. Let potatoes cool slightly and  peel potatoes. Using a ricer, food mill, or masher, process potatoes in sauce pan.
  3. Stir in melted butter until incorporated. Gently whisk in half and half and cheese. Set pot over low heat until cheese is melted.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Stir in chopped chives.

To keep potatoes warm until serving, use a second pot to set up a double broiler.

Happy New Year, Friends! May the trails be long and the carbs be worthy!

Shock and Awe

I’m seeing pregnant  women everywhere: there were three of us in lifting class the other morning, one of whom is due in 9 days. NINE days and the lady is squatting 30 lbs. like it ain’t no thang. Another two soon-to-be mamas walked out of Ross with me, and it seems as though half of my friends are expecting a small human early in the new year.

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People frequently ask me one of two things: How are you feeling? and Are you excited? Great! I say to the first, with a hidden enthusiasm, knowing that not everyone feels as spunky as I have for the last 6 ½ months. Yes, I say to the second, with a hidden apprehension, knowing that everyone feels as if this is THEMOSTEXCITINGTHINGTHATWILLEVERHAPPENTOTHEMORMEORUS. And I don’t want to disappoint them, really, I don’t. It’s just “excited” isn’t my favored diction choice.

The morning after I first felt him kick (I say boy, based on my government-developing-a-new-army-by-tainting-our-water-supply-with-Y-chromosomes conspiracy; N says girl, based on debunking my conspiracy), it dawned on me: this inside kicker will some day turn 34 as I just had. He will jet to and from his parents’ house (that’s us—gah!) make sassy quips about the government and rock out to his favorite music. He might be married with kids of his own—or be a heroine addict—or own the best restaurant in town. Whatever he would turn out to be, right now he was this little thing knocking my insides. So much later he would be so much larger. It was all starting in my ever-expanding belly.

The kicking is quite a thing. It’s hard to teach what a relative pronoun is and how to diagram it while a small, future diagrammer is busy bustin a move in your belly. It’s hard to not put my hand to it and feel the movement; hard not to shout out to a group of 31 fifteen year olds, Hey you guys!! There’s a human being moving in my stomach! Sometimes my belly distends itself in amorphous shapes, and I watch something protrude: the human being is getting stronger.

The insider kicker

I would love to tell you now that this makes me “excited.” But that’s not the word I would use. I get excited about a good flash sale, co-op ice cream, Twisp River Pub’s nachos. I get excited about menial shit, about carbohydrates. But never in my life have I used this word—this word that I’ve been spouting out to those who want to know “how I’m feeling.”

I’m marveling.

As in, what a freaking marvel it is that a well timed romp in the sack is going to make a whole human being. How nuts-o is that? And when it comes down to it (I know: Jesus, Linsey—you’re just now figuring this all out??) that’s where N and I and my brother sister and best friend all came from. I guess I’ve been so busy traveling and moving and teaching and running mountains that I’ve failed to grasp the awe-inspiring thing that is making a human being.

There is so much to gape at, like the blossoming of the four Bs: butt, boobs, belly, bridge of my nose. I’m in awe that my own body will create life-sustaining food (while trying to assure N that it’s not life sustaining enough for a 38 year old). I’m watching live, natural births on YouTube, in awe that anyone’s vagina can really accommodate a human head. I mean—really?? I think it’s Ina May who says that if a man’s penis could perform the feats of a woman’s vagina, they would never stop discussing it. A human head, gentleman. Let me know when your sex organ gets that big.

Another wonder: N's mama knit this and N wore it home from the hospital!

Another wonder: N’s mama knit this and N wore it home from the hospital!

I just don’t know if I can emphasize my wonder enough: there is a human being inside of me. I’ve tried my whole life to avoid parasites! And here it is, feasting and kicking about, preparing for its big debut.

There are many things in life that require experiential learning: love, loss, the power of nature. Here, past the halfway mark in this journey, I can attest that for me, this is another one of those things. When I look at the pregnant women in the gym, I am in awe that we not only made it out of bed at 7:30 on a Saturday morning, but also that we are making little people who will grow up to be big people. Like you and me kind of people. But nicer. And with better hair and table manners.  Really, how can you not marvel at that?

 

P.S.—It just dawned on me (I know, I know, I’m beyond slow, what can I say?) that not only must I refrain from drinking while pregnant, but also while breast-feeding. In order to ease my pain, N and I  put on some Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. It took only thirty seconds to decide that this is would be the song I labored to, and that I actually needed an entire early 90′s rap playlist for the duration. And if the child doesn’t enter the world with this song in the background, I’m not sure any of our lives will be complete. Is that too specific for a birth plan?? Going to make sure my midwife and I have on one of those fly gold chains and likely make N do the trick at the :58 second mark. Think he can catch the baby while he’s down there?

 

 

 

 

Miles to Go Before I Sleep

**Clearly this post was intended for many, many weeks ago. I can blame being pregnant, right?**

Today was officially the last day of my summer break. I find myself replaying the highlights as I lay here, marveling the miles I trekked.

17.8 Miles: The Ragnar

DSC_0432My teaching partner convinced me to spend an inordinate amount of money to join a team of women who would collectively run 198 miles, from Blaine, by the Canadian border, to Langley on Whidbey Island. And who am I to turn down an entry fee the price of Carrie Bradshaw’s shoes and the chance to burn fossil fuels all in the pursuit of a good time? Each of the 12 women ran 3 sections of the total mileage, relay style.

In my final leg, after little-to-no sleep on the floor of van with six other women, I took off with what seemed like wings. The leg was laden with hills. Huge hills. Some of the steepest I’ve run in my life. I remember seeing the first big hill unfurl before me as I crested the smaller one before it. I remember panicking. I remember yelling to my van as it passed me, “What the FUCK?!” I had to make a decision before I got to the base of the hill, and it was this: I was going to run it, the whole damn thing, and I was going to offer it up. I conjured a mental image of my sister: a week home from Germany, living with her in-laws, wrangling  three children under the age of 6 and an infant with Cystic Fibrosis. And she did—does—it all without complaint. I put my head down and picked my feet up. We cruised up that hill, Jess and I; we passed three people and when my van drove by I was afraid they would mistake my tears as ones of torture rather than the ones of solidarity and sisterhood they actually were. We flew. The other two hills were the same, just Jess and I, breathing and chugging together, single step by single step up hills we never knew we had the power to climb.

I shaved 1 whole minute off my mile time in each of those 5.8 miles. It was transcendent, and I have never been more proud of my body, my mind or my sister.

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33 miles—Pilot Ridge to PCT Loop

I have this knack for doing half-hearted research, for glossing over the details. And this, dear friends, is how N, my brother, my 14 year-old-niece and I ended up on this particular backpacking trip. And sure, when you finally get around to reading the fine print that explains that day 1 will be 12 miles with full weight up 3,000 ft. in 3 miles and then up and down a ridge line while carrying all your water for the entire day in the middle of a heat wave and that the bugs might be of the swarming variety and that every day will involve at least one huge pass and oh yeah, the views are totally worth it…well, the bags are already packed and the dog is already excited so you hike out.

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This was easily one of the hardest backpacking trips I’ve ever done, just because we had to carry so much water while climbing. But ohmigawd, do we live in an amazing place. It seemed as though each view was more glorious than the last, and I am reminded of why I love living here.

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For the record: my niece did not complain once. She is the raddest backpacker I have ever met—she is 14 and could out hike any PCT through-hiker. Give that girl an iPod, some Panic at the Disco!, hiking boots, and she is off.

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11 miles—Cutthroat Classic

And because I really like to torture myself, I signed up again for the Cutthroat Classic. I would love to show you the three pictures of me actually running the race, but I am so hunched over and out of breath that I could easily be mistaken for Quasimoto, and I don’t want to ruin your ibex-esque image of me running.

I dragged my teaching partner (as payback for the Ragnar) and my best friend, Heather along with me. It’s a daunting challenge for a super crappy (eight-weeks pregnant) runner like myself, but the week before I found out that my Rolfer used to work on Scott Jurek—that’s right—so I was pretty sure that some of Scott’s mojo had rubbed off on my IT band as it was worked on prior to the race.

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Alas, no such osmosis occurred. The five mile, 3,000 ft. climb up was the perfect antidote to the end-of-summer blues: there is no way you can think about anything other than how much air your lungs are not receiving while your feet scramble over lose rocks. And, it is everything I love about summer: the outdoors, the blue, blue, blue skies and popcorn clouds, the freedom of six miles downhill that comes after the long work of the ascent, the unbridled joy that comes with accomplishment and a beer to wash it down, and the time to enjoy a view at the top.

As I type, the wind is blowing outside my window. The maples down the alley are aflame in amber. I saw a gaggle of geese flying overhead last week, and dew has reclaimed its morning meditation on the lawn. The miles of summer have been checked off, and I can feel that it is time to settle back in.

But just to harness one last bit of summer, I made this pie. I feel it is my duty to begin packing on the pounds so that I have good reason to move all those miles again next summer.

Sumo Wrestlers and Vaginas

Can we just take a moment to acknowledge that the title of the post totally lured you in? Totally. I mean, who is not frothing at the mouth trying to figure out that connection?

Enough rhetorical questions. Onto the heart of the matter.

Those of you who know me well know my pension for saying dumb shit at dumb times. A prime example of this is the Sumo Wrestling Story.

I’m at a friend’s Halloween party with a pack of my cronies. They refuse to mingle, which in my mind, is 100% anti-party. So I decided to go make  new friends; I approach a group of non-threatening looking women, all sitting with a drink in hand. My BFF is right behind me. “Hi,” I say, all sing-song-y and new-friend-like. After some awkward small talk, I realize I have to do more to break into the harem. “Can I guess what you’re all dressed up as?” They comply. I begin with the woman closest to me. She is significantly overweight. She dons a black wig with blunt bangs and a fan behind her bun. Her faux silk kimono pulls taut across her stomach. Her outfit is obvious.

“Well, this is easy. You’re a sumo wrestler.”

WHAT THE FUCK, Linsey? A SUMO WRESTLER?? Geisha, you meant GEISHA!! What is wrong with you? The one day of the year the girl gets to be someone other than her hefty self and you conjure up her every ounce of self-loathe and call her a terrible, terrible thing. To her face. In front of her friends. A huge fat Japanese man in a rolled up towel for panties. A Sumo Wrestler?!

In my horror, I attempt to talk my way out of it. To back that sumo wrestler off the mat, out of the dojo, and into a world full of just opened cherry blossom trees.

Halfway through my sincere recanting, the geisha wrestler turns to her friends and says, “Don’t you just hate it when bitches don’t know when to shut up?”

I hung my cat tail between my black tights and scurried back to friends, a huddled mass in the shadow of a tree, and found Heather, still laughing so hard that she could barely breathe and certainly not yet tell of the horror she’d just witnessed.

So yes: really inopportune stuff comes out of my mouth all of the time. This next, most recent instance is the stuff Sumo Wrestler Stories are made of. Here is how I recounted it to my friend, Gayle, via email, the day that it happened (forgive the teacher jargon):

Standing at secretary’s desk asking about materials for tomorrow’s inservice. Jeff, one VP, shouts from his office, “Is that Linsey?” I try to slink away, but slink in instead. He’s got the CTE director with him, and they are pouring over the master schedule. Jeff tells me that unlike what he had said this morning, he will not have to smoosh  my 2 AP sections into 1 because the district just called and allocated us a .2 FTE. Which means that I can have my AP classes and there is still room to open another section of 9 Honors, but they don’t know where to place it on the schedule, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Yes, I think I get the problem, I say, but I’m not sure what you’re asking me or if you are even asking me something. He says, would you be interested in teaching the 9H section. ACK!! I could feel the room getting hot and closing in on me. The men staring at me, waiting. A brand new prep one week before school starts! I explain how the woman I’d be teaming with isn’t really a teamer and would likely not be helpful in helping me get through the 1st month while I get my bearings, but that I would teach the class…but…but…and I felt as though I HAD TO TELL them, even though I had said I was going to wait until October. Didn’t I even tell you that…October?? The calendar was still on August. Dear Lord. It felt so hot in there.

So I said, Well, I feel obligated to tell you, even though this isn’t the right time–and here, dear Gayle, I provide you with a direct quote that flew from my mouth in front of two grown men, both of whom are my direct supervisors–”but in April it is highly likely that I will be shoving a baby out of my vagina.”

“shoving a baby out of my vagina.”

exact quote.

This, my dear, is what happens when we are not in control. Just tossing out mental images of my vagina and large life forms being pushed out of it to any man that might be my direct supervisor. A.W.E.S.O.M.E.

I just about died. Well, that changes things, they said. And somehow, after revising my diction choice when I sulked down the hall to tell my principal–because they said he should probably know to understand why they weren’t going to switch it all up–I managed to get my inservice copies done before I walked out the doors and FREAKED THE FUCK OUT that 1. I had spilled the beans a whole month before I intended to and 2. openly discussed MY VAGINA with the man who will write my evaluation this year and another man who I barely know. Who knows, maybe I’ll pass the new state evaluation with flying colors–I mean, if I can meet “distinguished” in a few areas AND shove something out of my vagina…I mean, what more do you really need in a teacher?

Despite my clear obstacles with not being in control, I think we are going to wait to find out. I am likely to mutter something equally as stupid when the baby is born and I find out its sex, but I will likely be naked when this happens and will, indeed, have just pushed a baby out of my vagina, and I think I will be granted a bit more leeway then.”

***

So there you have it, Friends, The Big News–it is true: I will be pushing a baby out of my vagina in April. Just in case you weren’t sure how this kind of stuff happens–out the vagina.

Wanted: Dishwashers in Heaven

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Here is my idea of heaven: open space lit by a sun so splendid that it makes things shiny and bright and perhaps gives me the feeling that I am Midas and everything around me is turning to gold. There will be food so good that I am forced to consume it in any manner possible, no matter how cavewomanish I may appear. There will be good company and laughter. Most likely a body of water and some kind of animal to enhance the outdoorsy feeling. One or sixteen of my personal heroes will be there, and they will be so approachable and adorable that I will chat with them with ease and grace and an unusual lack of stammering.

Guess what? I made it there! And all I had to do was wash dishes!

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Months ago I learned that Outstanding in the Field would host dinner at a former student’s ranch. At the time, I didn’t really know what OITF was, or what the event would be, other than dinner on the ranch, but I did know this: Skagit River Ranch is hands down the best meat I have ever consumed in my whole life (the only meat I’ve eaten for the past 3 years); that parties on their ranch are gastronomic gluttony and that…wait for it…wait for it…

One of my favorite foodie bloggers/authors on the planet was going to be there, and her adorable husband was the guest chef.

When I found all this out, I emailed my student: “Nicole, if you need a volunteer, count me in!” My summer salary did not include the $180 per person per sitting.

Last Monday, Nicole emailed me: “Looks like a need a dishwasher for tomorrow night.”

Now, if you’ve heard my summer woes, they go like this: I am not motivated to do anything. I am addicted to Facebook. I am drinking way too much coffee. Exercising too little. Can’t put my already-folded clothes away for weeks on end. Am happy to let unwashed dishes linger in the sink to grow fungus or mold or some other spore. But! BUT! Give me some of the world’s best food and a celebrity sighting and I will wash anything you put in front of me. With toxic chemicals. Sans gloves. For four hours. With a smile. (Here I can sense N devising all kinds of plans to motivate me at home. Don’t even try it, honey.)

I arrived at the ranch just as guests snacked on appetizers between the cow pasture and the Skagit River. I was led to my dishwashing station where I would wash dishes with two of my former—wonderfully fun and asskicking!—students. Sera and I listened to the directions with perhaps half an ear attuned: hot water in these two tubs, soap in this one, clean in this one, this one can be cold, this one needs peroxide. I tried to pay attention to the minutia of dishwashery, but the food prep station just ahead of me kept my brain and 1.75 of my eyeballs rapt.

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Heaps of fennel grilled on the bbq and the Delancey boys had just loaded the pork loins in to the homemade smoker.

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Tall cans of Hilliard’s saison cracked open as farmer George called the cows in from pasture for the night.

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An eagle soared across the river, searching for its dinner.

And just then I caught Molly all by herself in the freshly mowed field. I galloped her way, but slowed to the most casual walk I could muster the last few steps. “Molly?” Like we’re old friends. Like she knows me. “I read your blog and loved your last book and just wanted to say congratulations on the latest.” Like I spoke to my idols all the time. Like we weren’t standing in a field, aflame with sunlight, about to consume some of the world’s finest food together out of stainless steel bowls with our hands. And so I casually (I’d like to think) chatted with Molly Wizenberg for a handful of minutes before someone who really knew her whisked her off in another conversation. She is as cute as—draped in a long stripped apron, red hair pulled up in an easy bun—and as nice as she seems.

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I made it back to my dishwashing station just in time for the ceramic platters (“the heath” as everyone called it) stacked up alongside our black bins. It wasn’t long before the meat came too.

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Oh! This meat! First was the brisket, which arrived in fist-sized chunks and fell off itself like a Victorian gown from a lithe body at the end of a ball. There was just enough fat to make it rich but not enough to make it heavy. The glaze—a tomato reduction—lent a bit of sweetness. I would wash 2 or 3 heaths, rinse my hands and “scrape” the next heath with my fingers, dropping the meat into my mouth before washing another set. The fennel was this side of charred and the fava beans, still encased in their pods, so languid that I ate the whole thing, shelling wrappers be damned. Was I supposed to do that, Brandon?

Round two: more heath to wash and salad served. Servers, cooks, dishwashers, cookbook mavens alike: we all dug into the bowls, fingering feta and romaine and a bright orange dressing into our mouths.

Round three: pork loin roast, just saved from the lapping flames of the smoker caught on fire. Out on the long guest table, they hadn’t seen the action as Brandon astutely thought to move the propane tanks lest they catch from behind the smoker. Nor had they seen the buckets of water tossed over the top of the makeshift cooker, only to soak the fire fighter on the other side of the structure.

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The pork’s peppery outside did not tell that story either. What it did though was make me a believer in the very best meat money can buy. I would eat pig all day if raised by George and cooked by Brandon. And who knew that Oxbow Farm’s broccoli tasted like candy?

And just when we had washed and dried the heath for the third time and scrubbed all 130 guest plates—then—then came dessert.

Those of you who have “shared” dessert with me know my requirements: chocolate, little-to-no-sharing, and very little talking. This particular dessert did not meet any of those requirements. Somehow, it exceeded them.

After the guests were served I could see staff frenzy at the prep tent. Without remorse, I abandoned my washing station the way a mama rabbit abandons its young. I strode over to the bowls of dessert and causally picked up a spoon next to my new friend, Molly, and dove into the lemon curd laced with raspberry puree topped with clouds of homemade meringue.

And right then I died and went to heaven. Perhaps it was the glasses of red I’d had or the fact that my hands were pruned from nearly four hours in the water. Maybe it was the light as it faded down the valley and glassed over the river. But I think, really, it was the food. Raised by someone who cares—really gives a shit about the land and his animals and advocating for both them and for us—and prepared by someone who appreciates the local, the convivial, the elegance of a simple farm meal.

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I think this is why I love food so much. Because as a dishwasher, I can experience, via salt and fat and sweet and umami, the same out-of-body sensations as the people who paid $180 to sit at the gorgeously draped table. Food is what connected me to Nicole and to Molly. Food ensures that N and I sit down together and share something in common at least once a day. Food—done well—takes care and courage and trust in chemistry. Some of my earliest memories are of food: cutting broccoli “trees” for mom’s salad during weeknight dinners; cookies turned into a lake while baking with my grandpa; my 12 year-old birthday party at Let’s Get Cooking.

In what other medium can the city folk and farmer, dishwasher and renowned chef all transcend, bridging the gap from the advent of life in a seed or newborn to its fulfilling and sustaining place on our plates? It is in food only, I surmise, that we all make our way to heaven.

And unlike microwaving a Swanson’s frozen dinner, this endeavor requires dishes to be washed and is best done among friends.