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March 2020, Week 4

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 		 [On Tuesday, I visited my 93-year-old father who lives in an
assisted living apartment a few miles away. After we talked, we said
our goodbyes with more candor and tenderness than usual; I told him
that I wouldn’t be coming back for a long time.]
[https://portside.org/] 

 PORTSIDE CULTURE 

 FINDING HOPE IN A DARK WEEK  
[https://portside.org/2020-03-23/finding-hope-dark-week] 

 

 John T. Edge 
 March 19, 2020
Garden and Gun
[https://gardenandgun.com/articles/finding-hope-in-a-dark-week/] 

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 _ On Tuesday, I visited my 93-year-old father who lives in an
assisted living apartment a few miles away. After we talked, we said
our goodbyes with more candor and tenderness than usual; I told him
that I wouldn’t be coming back for a long time. _ 

 , 

 

On Tuesday morning, I stuffed a couple biscuits with hunks of the
chuck roast I smoked on Sunday, wrapped them in a tinfoil pouch, and
carried them to my 93-year-old father. He lives two miles away from my
wife, Blair, and son, Jess, and me in an assisted living apartment
here in Oxford, Mississippi. After we talked about what he’s reading
(the latest Grisham) and what I planned to cook that night (vegetable
soup and cornbread), we said our goodbyes with more candor and
tenderness than usual.

I told him that I owe to him the best of what I’ve become. And I owe
to him the best of what I’ve passed on to our son. And I told him
that I wouldn’t be coming back to see him for a long time. We
didn’t talk about mortality. We didn’t have to. It hung there, a
newly vivid presence in our lives, unsettling and unavoidable like the
virus that now ravages our nation. Walking out the door, I heard the
distant whine of a siren, growing louder. And the chirp of birds,
flitting through the limbs of a dogwood tree.

On the way back home, my phone dinged with text alerts. Once I settled
at the desk in the little writing shed I keep behind our house, a
trickle of emails became a river. Outside my window, a construction
crew in a four-door pickup rolled by, bound for a neighbor’s home.
Five minutes later, a cement mixer backed down the same stretch of
narrow street, beeping that damn beep that work trucks now make. The
sight of those trucks comforted me. Someone was getting paid to make
something. Instead of fretting and pacing the backyard like me,
someone was working.

Turns out my chef and restaurant friends across the South were at
work, too. When I turned to the emails and texts, I learned that,
after receiving orders from governors and mayors to close dining
rooms, or following the lead of advisors, or looking to the inevitable
in a moment when the inevitable looms large and ugly, they were laying
off employees. As Tuesday became Wednesday, texts and emails kept
coming. Under duress, in an effort to set their former employees up
for unemployment benefits, my friends were being forced to cut loose
bussers and dishwashers and line cooks and waiters. They made these
decisions with surety. They made these decisions as tears rolled down
their faces.

I heard from friends in Houston and Atlanta and Raleigh. And in
Charleston, New Orleans, and Oxford. Donald Link of Link Restaurant
Group, who made his name at Herbsaint and built a six-restaurant
empire in New Orleans, let go 400 out of 550 employees. Via text he
said that was “the worst thing I have ever had to do, and I had to
rebuild after Katrina.” Steve Palmer, managing partner of the Indigo
Road Hospitality Group in Charleston, let go 950. “It was a dark,
dark, dark, day,” said Palmer, who recently published a book, Say
Grace, about his fight for sobriety and his work to help other
restaurant professionals get sober. “I haven’t been through a day
like this since I’ve been sober.” He paused. “I believe there
will be a restaurant industry on the other side of this. I don’t
know what it looks like. But I hope to be there to serve others.”

Each time I heard from someone new, I came in from the shed to the
house to read the news to Blair. After three readings, she looked up,
after looking down for a long time, and said, “These sound like
frontline reports from a war.”

By Wednesday afternoon, my chef and restaurateur friends began to
organize campaigns to gain federal and state intervention to save
their industry. And, like Edward Lee in Louisville, who set an early
example, they began to convert their restaurant kitchens into relief
kitchens to feed former employees and their families. In other words,
they began to serve new sorts of guests. And they began to serve those
guests with the same care that they had once served people like me and
you.  

On Thursday afternoon, I drove to High Cotton, my favorite local
liquor store, with two disinfectant wipes tucked in my shirt like a
pocket square. From my friend Aaron Herrington, who wore blue surgical
gloves at the counter and broadcast a wide smile, I bought gin for
Blair, bourbon and rye for me. Back home, I stirred a boulevardier, a
classic drink, which, if you don’t already know it, translates as a
negroni made with brown liquor instead of clear liquor. (My father,
who recently gave up Scotch for bourbon, can’t quite pronounce the
name, but he delights in trying to say it.)

As I stirred, my phone dinged one text alert. And then another. Before
I could read any of them, my father dialed. He wanted to know how my
day had gone, where I had been, and who I had seen. His tone was
bright. He laughed when I dog-cussed a politician. He wanted me to
know that he had just turned off the news and poured himself a drink.
A drink that sounded a lot like the one I was then stirring. We had
said what we had to say. We had looked each other in the eye. And we
had chosen to focus on the horizon. Together, we would stroll the
boulevards, even if we didn’t get to leave our homes.

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