Patiently, I watched as the Cuisinart spun the smoked salmon and cream cheese into a smooth orange-pink paste. Of all the dishes I’d prepared for him over the years, this was his favorite.
“I really like it when you use the wild Alaska salmon. I hate that farm-raised Atlantic shit.”
But he was only slightly biased. One of the loves of his life was his annual Alaskan fishing excursion. In fact, the first time I enjoyed his company at dinner, he’d just returned from one. My challenge, he announced as he invited himself over, was to make something yummy from whatever — salmon or halibut — he showed up with at the door. Apparently I succeeded as he became a regular fixture in my kitchen.
Slowly, I drizzled the heavy cream into the paste, transforming it into a light frothy cloud.
During one of his earlier hospital stays, he’d called to whine that they were starving him to death and that — if it wasn’t too much trouble, of course — he’d really love it if I brought him some of that mousse. But when I arrived — treats in hand — he was nowhere to be found. I sat and waited, assuming he was out for tests and that he’d return shortly. Half an hour later, I went to the nurses’ station to find out how soon he’d be finished.
“He’s not in his bed!?” She questioned as she rounded the corner to check for herself — as if I could miss all six and a half feet of him in the tiny room.
At that moment, the elevator door opened and he emerged — jeans and gym shoes beneath his hospital gown, a grocery bag in each arm.
“I told you I hate the crap they serve here, so I took a hike down the street to Ralph’s and got the shit I like to eat. Did you bring my stuff?”
In response, I dangled before me a gift bag containing a plastic container of his prize — along with carrot and cucumber chips as my concession to keeping him healthy.
“All right!” He beamed like a kid — a big, mustachioed kid — who’d just been surprised with his favorite candy bar, spun and fell into the guest chair. Then he tossed the bags of veggies back with “I knew you’d bring these; you can keep ‘em!” With that he whipped a box of crackers from his bag of goodies. The following day he called to let me know he’d shared his contraband with his doctors. But they loved it entirely too much. And he needed a refill.
I pulled a jar of preserved lemons from the refrigerator and poured a couple of teaspoons of its thick, salty liquid into the food processor’s open chute and gave it another whir. Finally, it was ready. I packed the mousse into a container, arranged his favorite crackers around it and dropped it off at the reception site.
And as I drove to his memorial service I smiled as I remembered all the fun times we’d had and all the wonderful meals we’d shared. And while he wouldn’t be there physically enjoying his favorite smoked salmon mousse, he’d be there smiling as we enjoyed it — celebrating his life and the incredible man that he was.
One month ago, a wonderful man who contributed many beautiful chapters to the story that is my life lost his mercifully short battle with lung cancer.
Tom, I love you dearly … and I’ll miss you.