This year, I decided to take another route when celebrating upcoming St. Patrick’s Day. Instead of sharing with you yet another recipe involving Guinness (Guinness cheesecake, anyone?), Irish coffee or a recipe for that amazing Corned Beef Hash that you get bombarded with these days, I would like to share a very personal story with you today. May I?
What’s the symbol of St. Patrick’s Day? A green clover. Actually, as Wikipedia says: it’s “a shamrock, a young sprig of clover, used as a symbol of Ireland. Saint Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint is said to have used it as a metaphor for the Christian Trinity.” Somehow, we translate it as an Irish luck. Or was it the 4 leaves clover? That’s what I always thought, as those were harder to spot.
I decided to concentrate on my own “luck” this year, and the meaning behind it. Something green as money? Or something that completely enriches your life the way you never imagined? Sometimes “luck” could come to your life in unexpected ways. I have plenty of challenges but also many blessings in my life, and I chose to concentrate on the latter.
A year ago, I met our neighbor Paul. It was the day of his 89th birthday. His children chipped in, approached me and purchased a gift certificate for Paul and his wife. It was for 3 different dinners prepared by me, a personal chef. One dinner was to celebrate his birthday, the other their 65th wedding anniversary and the third one was for Father’s Day. I didn’t know the couple then, although they lived just down the street from us.
Since his kids are all out of state, all our communication and transaction was done over the phone. I offered to deliver the gift certificate personally– on the day of Paul’s birthday. Walking in and holding the gift certificate in my hand, I proclaimed: “Hi Paul, I am your neighbor Vera and I brought you your birthday gift….”
Before I can explain more, Paul’s face lightened up with a warm smile, and the way he replied without blinking the eye changed my entire first impression of him. See? Until that second all I saw was and old, tired gentleman, who hardly walks, with a fragile body and probably in lots of pain. But he smiled and said: “So, You ARE my gift?! Where have you been so long?”
We all burst in laughter. I wasn’t his present literally, but OK, pretty close. I didn’t know that Paul used to be a successful businessman, and also an entertainer – a comedian and magician. Most importantly, they both were fantastic human beings. That’s something you don’t find in people when you just see them walking by with their walkers. And, I was yet to meet their children – those who hired me.
Both Paul and his wife loved the gift idea. And they made sure to enjoy it to the fullest. We sat down, discussed the menu for all three evenings so they can have fully customized, unforgettable experience.
When I came to cook their first dinner, Paul presented me with a real white chef’s hat – the one he used for his magic tricks. It was such a sweet surprise and that hat holds a premium spot in my office ever since. So, “I am his gift” yet he gives me a gift?!
I was coming back home later and later after each of those dinners. That’s because we enjoyed each others company so much. I saw pictures of their beautiful family, and as Elaine – Paul’s wife says: “We must have done SOMETHING right to deserve such a great children and grandchildren.” The truth is, they did and still do. We naturally became friends. By now I have met the entire family and it’s easy to fall in love with all of them.
Today, Paul is just few weeks from his 90th birthday celebration. He is also in very bad shape. He needs dialysis three times a week. He is so weak that he can’t walk on his own anymore. If that wasn’t bad enough, Paul recently fell down in his bedroom, broke something in his shoulder and badly bruised his already hurting body. Because of dialysis, they can’t give him any pain killers.
When I came to see him, I could tell it was a challenge to put his signature smile on, but he managed. He could barely raise his hand to greet me.
“How do you feel?” I asked the stupidest question. What was he supposed to say? I knew how he felt. Yet Paul forgave me and responded with a light smile: ”Ehhh….”
He never complains, his kids are taking turns to help care for him. The whole family is now entertaining me, telling me how it happened, and how is Paul dealing with all this. Everybody is full of jokes and stories, although we know how serious it is. They refuse to put on sad face and be depressed.
Thinking of what should lift his spirit up, I asked: “What would you like me to cook for you?” and I already knew the answer. Paul really enjoyed one of the dishes I previously made for them, so I promised to make it for him now. When I finally brought it over for dinner, although he could hardly eat, Paul told me he was looking forward to it all day long.
“My body may be failing me, but my mind is crystal clear,” he says and it’s the truth.
Every day I am amazed where this man draws his strength from, and how he manages to entertain people around him while holding on to life with a string. It’s a gift, strong character and amazing will.
Then one day I received a phone call. It was Paul – he wanted to make sure I have a date available to prepare his 90th birthday celebration in their house. “I don’t know what exactly we are doing yet, but one thing I know for sure – I want you to do it!”
It meant a lot to me. To get to know this family, to see how Paul is happy when I swing by to see him. We are all so busy with our lives. I have a business to ran, a family to spend time with – but we should always make time for people like Paul. The last time I saw him, we planned menu for his birthday party.
Paul’s daughter said:” You know what’s going to be the biggest problem, right dad?”
Paul said:” What’s that?”
“How everybody is going to fight over who is sitting next to you!”
“Why don’t you assign seats ahead of time?” I suggested.
“OK, I will – as long as you sign in that it was your idea,” she turned to dad when he nodded to my idea.
“Or, we can rotate Paul after every course, from table to table,” I added, and we all laughed about it.
How must it feel to be loved like that? His numerous grandchildren are calling every night to see how he is doing. When I saw him the other day, all collapsed in the wheelchair, pushed by his daughter so he can get some sun – I ran outside to say hi.
“How are you Paul?”
“Fan-tastic!!!!” he lighten up again and said: “Why don’t you walk with us?”
I was in the middle of “something important”. But then it hit me. Work can wait. So I said: “Why don’t I?”
It’s just a time. None of us know how much time we have “assigned” to us. In moments like this, it’s important that we manage to stop for a moment. I dropped what I was doing and went for a short walk. Those few minutes talking about the upcoming party were important to someone. Someone quite special. After all, isn’t the whole point of having your own business to be able to manage your own time?
When I said I had to go back, Paul mentioned this old song, he remembered, and I never heard of. But I looked it up out of curiosity and the lyrics are really sweet:
It’s from Doris Day – Why don’t we do it more often?
Why don’t we do this more often Just what we’re doin’ tonight
Gee, but it’s great to get together again Why does it only happen now and then
We oughtta do this more often Don’t you agree that I’m right
We make each other laugh We make each other sing
And you can never ever Over-do a good thing So why don’t we do this more often….
It’s sad when you think about it. In our active age, we never seem to have time for anything. But at the same time someone we know, facing real challenges, may not have plenty of it left. We should use it wisely. I know that Paul holds on, looking forward to see the entire family at his 90th birthday party. Let’s make it the best party ever! After all, how often someone celebrates their 90th birthday? I am honored to be part of it.
Because Paul was wrong when we first met. No Paul, YOU ARE my gift!
What or who is your gift worth mentioning? Happy St. Patrick’s Day everybody!!!!