by Holly Mohr
“Oh! Praise the Lord!” I exclaim, instinctively throwing my head back and closing my eyes, savoring that first sip of my margarita on the patio of the new Mexican place, across the table from my friend.
Her eyes twinkle a little as she laughs at me, in a good way.
“That’s your dad in you,” she says.
I sit back, stunned, grateful. My friend never met my dad. How does she know? She’s right, though, and sitting there, taking some much-needed friend time two days before the one-year anniversary of my dad’s death, I feel as though I’ve found sacred space.
It kills me a little that almost no one in my adult life knew my dad at all, or at least not the good parts. I’ve spent a good bit of time Brooding about the painful pieces of my life with my dad (and those are very, very real), but that’s not where my heart is today. Today I’m thinking about some of the springs of joy to which he connected me.
As it gets safer to process it all, one year later, I’m finding that I’m letting myself peek around the corners of memory with a little more hope, sometimes even some playfulness. I’m letting myself notice the parts of myself that are directly from Scott with some pride: the persistence, the curiosity, the round face, but especially (my favorite, maybe), the super annoying, but simultaneously endearing, childlike delight.
On Saturday nights growing up, my dad would burrow away in the kitchen with the doors closed. No one was allowed inside. He would listen to jazz as he stirred his famous spaghetti sauce (always “too much garlic”), broiled filet, or peeled potatoes for a roast. He’d sip his gin martini and hum. After awhile, he would emerge, proudly, setting the stage for a feast. The jazz would follow him to the dining room as he poured some gorgeous Cabernet.
Finally, the first taste.
Ya’ll, my dad was a really good cook. No matter what he made, that first taste was crazy. His filet was always tender, with just the right amount of pink. His spaghetti sauce could make you cry, and his roasts made me think I liked carrots.
In that first bite, we would both close our eyes and throw our heads back. (Upon doing this in front of others, years later, I learned it looked ridiculous, overdramatic. But there was no feigning the ecstasy of that taste; it was simply a natural reaction for me). Delight gave way to a joy that permeated every cell of my being, connected me to the rhythms around me, made me know that I was loved. It taught me the marriage of elegance, precision and sustenance.
Sharing beautiful food was Scott at his best. It occurs to me as the years pass that taste is a primary way he communicated with the divine; it is a communion he offered to me. I can gauge my level of joy and “flow” in life by whether or not I’m in the mood to try new recipes and eat beautiful things. In the days, weeks, months when I’m not inspired by flavor, I check myself, because it nearly always means I’m too overwhelmed; I’m not allowing myself to be inspired enough by life.
My friend never knew my dad in life, but she knew him when she saw him, in me. What a weight lifted, to know that I could still share him, that I had transmitted something of his joy and beauty to someone who had never even met him (and has known me at the peak of pain concerning him).
I still struggle. I struggle with who he was to me, who he was in the world. I struggle with understanding where he is now, and what that means for immortality, for what it means to be a human person, for what it means to trust in the Kingdom of God.
But little by little, I’m asking for the grace of lightness, and occasionally tasting the gift of joy.