They came bringing great yellow roses, weaving up the walkway in a rusty wheelbarrow; Leland’s heavy black glasses slipping down his nose, sweating into the striped “Polo” he always wore, straining against the weight of the plant and the inevitable flatness of a worn tire. Kevin, young and thin, soft brown hair like a mop, dancing out in front, firefly lighter than air, about to lift off, skinny, big toothed teen age boy in a white t-shirt.
Cousins they were, coming across a lonely, wild rose in an abandoned lot and thought it a perfect to fit my romantic jigsaw of a backyard.
The 70’s summer sun shown down, but I can’t feel the heat of it now, only the glow and the halo that frames those boys in my memory.
A million summers have passed since.
Those boys had saved my life, them, and their friends.
We were all children then; they in high school and I in my twenties, working in Mama’s small town restaurant while she tended to the bar in the next room.
It was the moment that I fired the “China Man”, mean little S.O.B that he was, our livelihood teetering on the back of his whims and wishes.
Without Chinese food on the menu, why, people just got up and went down the street to Stockton’s restaurant, where the real Chinese were. Like geese in a pond, they’d light then take wing away as if frightened by the absence of fried rice and chop suey.
Anyway, “Fired” is too soft an image; it obscures the waitress’ in tears, of drunken mint farmers in bib overalls weaving through the restaurant in search of promised food never to be delivered, an aching weariness of too many hours and too little rest, the shouts, the overwhelming din, a flashpoint of rage and me, pitching him, by the britches and shirt collar, into the back parking lot.
Yes, “fired” is too soft an image.
Those boys stood with me, day after burnt foo young and soggy egg roll day; night after desperately slow night, until we rebuilt our shattered business, convinced our little community that excellent Chinese food doesn’t come from just being Chinese and kindled the spark that drove me to be the Chef, the person, I am today.
Sometimes you just know when it’s over; the pay phone rings in the darkened restaurant hallway, hollow, horrible words, then silence creeps like mist through the building pierced by the tiny sobs and cries from the back.
One of the boy’s is gone, wiped away by a driver who missed the stop on Black Butte.
Kevin was so proud of that little red Vespa, said it gave him freedom and it felt like flying.
A mere split second in time would have been enough to change it all; tie a shoe, have a last coffee or linger a moment over “goodbye”.
But, that’s not the way of things.
I feel it now, watching Mama becoming frailer, merely a whisper some days, pushing back, with ever diminishing strength, against the mounting weight of loss, friends, brothers and sisters, hearing and sight.
We are simply left a snow globe of memories, old movies without sound.
Lord, how we loved that boy.
Memorial Day 2013