A month of feasting is over. For any of my tens of followers who read regularly you’ll remember that I wanted to open 2013 with a new tradition, one of symbolic abundance, including several large meals to kick off a better year than the few most recently survived. A 30 or so days later it worked, and it didn’t.
Cassoulet was made. Seafood stew was hovered over. Pork was smoked. Duck fat was rendered. Stocks were simmered. Shrimp, squid, black drum, clams, frankfurters, sausages, bellies were all washed down with appropriate amounts of wine, beer, sippy-cup water and milk. We had the chance to enjoy friends and family and spend time around a large communal pot atop a large communal table. We spent Sundays as they were made to be spent: taking a few breaths, eating a few plates and enjoying the immediate for what it was. And then this last Sunday, I got news that made me realize just how important all that sitting, talking and eating was.
An old friend of mine lost his battle with cancer. I know everybody says the bit about going far too young, but he did. And his kids are far too young to lose their dad. And his wife was far too young to lose her husband. Our friendship was good and enduring, but I hadn’t seen him in years and the news sent me wishing far too late for something to do that might make things different for him and his family. And then it sent me to a dusty and leaning old porch in Moscow, Idaho.
We met in college and shared a friendship that included common interests of advertising classes, beer consumption and Robert Earl Keen albums. He and several other guys lived in an old house away from campus that had a front porch. And for several of the warmer months out of the year, that porch was the focal point of our lives. The other focal point was the Walmart brand propane grill that sat in the front yard a few feet away. Mornings would begin around early afternoon with a trip from my own porchless apartment, to the grocery store for generic hot dogs (pre-smoked cheddar sausages if I was feeling rich), bread and a case of Rainier or Olympia. And then on to the porch, where my friend would already be sipping off the hangover that he and I had earned the previous night and listening to some kind of honky-tonk drunken Texan music. Keep in mind, this was Northern Idaho and both porches and fellow Texas music fans were hard to come by. Soon enough the hangovers were gone, the sun was fading, the music was louder and hot dog wrappers and beer cans were adding up. Hours would pass into days into weekends into a comfy blur of Jerry Jeff Walker lyrics and time well wasted. It was feast in it’s own right, if an often drunken, nitrate laden and heavily budgeted one.
Our friendship outlasted the porch days, although those were frequent and plentiful, and followed us through many different geographies and life changes. I surfed his couch in San Francisco for several weekends in an early and unsuccessful bid to get hired as an ad writer there. We caught up over Christmases at our parents’ houses back in Idaho. He and his future wife surfed my couch in Austin off and on as he worked his way around the ad shops in town, eventually landing a gig. And then he was on to another location and so was I. We both left for better jobs and newer places and our paths became divergent.
Over the following years there were e-mails, occasional phone calls, a couple visits. But more importantly, there were milestones passed separated by time and geography. He had two children that I somehow missed meeting. I had a child that never got to meet him. We both had jobs, and families and the day to day realities and obligations that seem to push everything aside just by being there. And now, I have a friend I’m missing and a goodbye that I never got to say. And for all of that I’m sorry. There’s a part of me that understands that’s what it means to be a big kid. That we all have worries and celebrations of our own and that losing touch is simply part of life. But I want it to be better than that. Even for an afternoon.
Eating something for luck or fortune is to believe that food is magical. And it isn’t. No matter what we jam into our faces we will all have gains, and we will all have losses. Some of them staggering. But food is important, and so is ritual. At it’s best, eating and cooking is an affirmation of living, whether it be on black-eyed peas and collards, cassoulet, zuppa di pesce or store brand hotdogs and beer. Yes food is calories burned, and simply putting a piece of meat or grain in your mouth is an act of survival. But beyond that, sitting together for a brief time to enjoy the very present and tactile nature of what’s in front of you and who’s around you is one of the rare bits of pure rest and enjoyment in an adult life. A life that can sometimes only feel like an endless, stumbling push forward while the roulette cycle of living and dying spins around us. Everything continues, everything changes, and everything ends, sometimes in devastatingly unfair ways.
That’s why front porches are important.