My wife beams with pride over her creation. Computer technology proved far more fascinating during her formative years than emulating Betty Crocker. Yet every so often Grace will don an apron, crack open a recipe book, and take to the kitchen.
Laid out on our dining table is a feast to behold. The main dish of this unexpected banquet is a grilled red snapper topped with tropical fruit salsa.
“Dig in, honey.” When Grace told me that she intended to take the day off from work, little did I know she would spend it in such a manner.
“Wow. What did I do to deserve this?”
“You showed up and swept me off my feet.”
I smile, then load up my plate as a surge of remembrance brings me back to the last time I was served red snapper. An astonishing count of sixteen years has passed between that meal and the one before me now. I suspect this dish has been avoided in the interim not by conscious choice, but rather, due to a mental connection made between the fish and that distant day.
“You haven’t touched your food yet,” Grace observes. “Aren’t you hungry?”
“Just thinking about something.”
When I returned home after several hours spent with my friends, talking about those things that preoccupy the minds of fourteen year old boys, I was surprised to find a grilled red snapper soaked in lemon garlic sauce awaiting me for dinner. My mother rarely prepared fish for us, even though we both loved seafood, because my father adamantly did not. This had always struck me as odd since he was born in the West Indies, the grandson of fishermen on both sides of the family. But not everything is passed down the genealogical line by tradition and heredity. Some choices we make for ourselves in spite of who we are supposed to be. The preferences of my father, dietary and otherwise, were noted and accepted as the way of our world. My mother was an excellent cook and the meal she had prepared looked scrumptious, but it also seemed to be premeditated defiance. Why had she cooked what she knew my father would not eat?
“Is Dad home?” I asked, for he was nowhere in sight. Typically he would be seated on the sofa watching whatever ball game he could find on TV when I traipsed into our apartment shortly before the assigned dinnertime of 7:00. We were a family of routine, of well respected rituals, but on this day evidence pointed to a disturbance in the balance of our lives.
“Wash up for dinner, Jimmy. I need to talk to you. And no, your father won’t be joining us for dinner tonight.”
“Please do as I say.”
Her voice was calm, yet clearly fragile, moments away from shattering unless events unfolded in the precise manner she had planned. I washed my face and hands, then returned to the dinner table. My mother and I silently said a prayer of gratitude for the food. The first bite taken of the red snapper was exquisite, and the second somehow surpassed its predecessor. Next I consumed a forkful of saffron rice followed by a sip of pineapple juice. As my fork headed back towards the fish, my mother spoke.
My food would grow cold and unsavory as her words tumbled out. I sat frozen while learning that my father had left us that morning and would not be returning. I did not doubt what he said to my mother in the note left behind as legacy. My father, despite his many failings, was a man of his word.
I did not hear from him again until I was twenty-four, a married man with far more debt than my meager paychecks could significantly dent, about to start a family of my own. Grace was three months pregnant. My father had somehow learned that he was going to become a grandfather, not that he expressed pleasure over this development. He did not bother to claim regret either. He had sent money to my mother and I sporadically, the envelopes always postmarked with a new location. These payoffs alleviated any guilt that might otherwise have disturbed his sleep. I did not mask my bitterness, but it was voiced without passion. Over time I had decided he was not worth the effort necessary to actively hate him. I simply maintained a passive state of disapproval. As for my mother, her second husband is a great guy who aided amnesia about the first.
Ten years after his departure, my father did not invite himself back into my life. Actually, there didn’t seem to be much reason for the call. We exchanged unpleasantries, hung up after a few tense minutes, and that was that.
There were complications with her pregnancy and Grace miscarried a month later. On top of the misery of losing our child, we learned that Grace would probably never be able to conceive again. But these were to be future concerns, as far more immediate matters needed to be dealt with. I came close to losing Grace as the surgeons toiled to keep her alive. My world nearly collapsed as the agonizing hours crawled by and I helplessly awaited fate’s verdict. But my wife is a strong woman and she pulled through. Her life was saved. Hers and mine.
I will not allow the red snapper to grow cold this time. The efforts of my wife, the impossibly beautiful woman whom I love beyond comprehension, will not be in vain. I place a tender morsel into my mouth. As expected, it is delicious.
“This is wonderful”, I say, referencing a great deal more than the food. I do not have all that I want, nor even all that I need. What I do have is the love of a good woman, and what could be a simpler or greater miracle than that?
I raise the fork for another tantalizing bite of this fish whose journey has led to my appreciative stomach. I inherited my father’s wavy hair, wide feet, thick eyebrows, and the shape of his nose. But I do not share his distaste for seafood. I am a vastly different man than him. It is my life’s purpose to be so.
I stop eating long enough to say, “Yes, baby” to which Grace replies -