10.16.2010

A Friend and An Angel

I saw and heard my future friend and angel many times, on the playground and the streets, before we actually met. The official introduction happened winter 2002 at a toddler park district class where the munchkins run around, ride little plastic cars, and fight.

“Hi!” she said, pushing a double stroller past me, chicken necking to look back. "I'm Gayle."

“Hi, I'm Lisa, nice to meet you. Are they twins?” I asked of her same-sized stroller passengers.

“Nope,” she said. “Fifteen months apart.” She noticed my wide eyes and said, “Yeah, it’s crazy…having two babies. I don’t even know how I got pregnant. This one was six months old when we found out."

Later that week I spotted her out my living room window. She was bopping down the street, her brown, curly top-of-the-head ponytail cocked slightly to one side and swaying to and fro. I opened my door, yelled her name and she crossed the street to say hi.

“This is where you live!?” she said, not really asking.

“This is where I live,” I stated.

“Lovely,” she said. “This is my route to the park every day. From now on I’ll walk on this side of the street and look for you on your doorstep!” Great, I thought, a peeping Tom.

Her stroller was loaded up with more supplies than I pack for a weekend out of town. “When I hit the streets,” she said, “I load up. Toys, snacks, drinks--the works. And if it’s above 50 degrees, we don’t go home for lunch.”

After that we kept running into each other all around the neighborhood. Her stroller was always overflowing, kids almost always smiling. A friendship began. As did phone calls, lots of them. Early morning. Late at night. Whenever.

I answered with, “Hello.” She answered talking full details of the scene at hand, usually about food in various forms. “I’m mincing an onion for turkey chili!” or “I’m browning meatballs for Barefoot Contessa’s spaghetti and meatballs!”

When she greeted me one morning with, “It smells delicious in my house--I’m sautéing leeks!” I decided she was in fact a lunatic. What in the world was she doing, sautéing leeks (or anything else?) at 8 a.m.? I didn’t even know what a leek was, and so I asked, “Leeks? What are those?”

“Are you kidding me?” she blasted back. “They are de-li-cious…you can never have enough leeks in a soup!” I was flabbergasted. “You make homemade soup?” I asked. No one born after 1950 made homemade soup.

“Of course, I love soup!” So did I. From the can, or a restaurant.

Later that day Gayle showed up at my house, unannounced, holding a plastic cup with aluminum foil covering the top. “I had to bring you a taste,” she said. “This is the butternut squash soup I was making when you called earlier. It is spectacular!”

Never before had a friend appeared on my doorstep with such an offering. I was touched, impressed and a bit confused: did she not have enough room in her refrigerator, or a compulsion to feed those who call when she is mid-sauté? Whatever the case, I took a taste. She was right. It was spectacular.

✳ ✳ ✳

Seven years later I'm in the produce section at Whole Foods bagging turnips and parsnips when a man turns to me and asks, “What are you going to do with those? How will you prepare them?”

Shocked, I nearly forget why I’m buying them in the first place. “Oh, I’m, uh, going to sauté them and serve them as a side dish,” I reply. “Sounds good!” he says, and walks away.

Why in the world is this man talking to me? I ask myself. Doesn’t he know I’m a terrible cook? "Don’t be deceived by my confident exterior!" I wanted to shout. "I don’t really know what I’m doing, just because I’m buying parsnips!"

On my next grocery shopping trip (really, the following week), I grab a bunch of leeks and as I toss them in my cart I see a woman looking my way. “What are those?” she asks.

“Leeks,” I reply.

“What do you do with leeks?”

“I’m using them for a soup.” Two weeks in a row a stranger has spoken to me in a grocery store. Asking me questions about cooking. What is happening?

At checkout as I loaded my items onto the belt I smiled and recalled my former self. Was I now the expert? Are others now watching me? Shadowing me? Or did I just look old?

Returning home from the grocery store and unloading my items onto the counter, I felt old yet victorious, embracing the former as a fair trade for the latter, and looking forward to dinner.

But first I needed to call Gayle for directions on the best way to wash a leek.