Gravy

For a long time my mother’s younger brother Basil, or simply “Bas” was the heart of our family.

He had a movie star smile, a warm and loving demeanor and his eyes lit up when he talked to not just me, but everyone else. When he hugged you and told you he really had missed you, and was so happy to see you, there was no question that it was 1,000 percent true. I would like to think that I was special to him and undoubtedly I was, yet I always had the sense that he loved us all the same. Now, looking back, I think he did.

When I was a little girl he had a small farm in Langley, British Columbia. It had a quaint little house with a guest room that my sister and I shared. My Aunt Debra was an excellent homemaker and her home was always spotless. When we came to visit she would take pains to make sure her refrigerator was stocked and everyone was comfortable. Our sunny bedroom would be ready with the bed covered in warm cotton quilts.

In the morning, Bas would make everyone breakfast. Bas liked to put blackberry jam on his eggs and this alone was an amazement to us. After breakfast he would take my sister and I to the auction in town. In those days everyone spoke French in Canada even the auctionaire. There would be the smell of chickens and cows and hay in the air.

Later, as Basil became more and more successful, as everyone knew he would, he moved to Vancouver, British Columbia. I would often visit as a teenager. My aunts and uncles would take my friends and I to concerts and we would all go out dancing, and have giant family dinners. My other aunts and uncles were near-by and we spent time with them and my many cousins. When I was in college I spent a summer working for him in his commercial printing business. We became not just family, but friends. These were what we would later refer to as the “golden” years.

When I was in my mid-twenties and living in San Francisco, Basil was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Our family gathered around him, but there was nothing anyone could do and he died at the age of forty two.

Heartbreaking doesn’t begin to describe his passing from our lives, but the worst part was after his death our family scattered in all directions.

Gone were the sunny days on his Chris Craft boat playing backgammon on Horseshoe Bay, the nights dancing and laughing at the Sneaky Pete’s nightclub downtown, or the extravagant dinners in Gas Town. There were no more family dinners where we pushed the furniture against the walls and we all got up and danced.

Before he died I went to see him. We sat in his cheerful living room together. The brain is a funny thing, and because of the tumor he would get lost in time, alternately seeing me as a child, then he would remember I was all grown up. This went on all day long. Back and forth through time and the many days we had spent together. One morning, he was talking about gravy and how much he loved to make gravy, and how important it was to do it right.

He always addressed me by my baby name and called me “Sis” as did all of my extended family. He explained to me in great detail how to make gravy. As an auditory learner I committed his words to memory.

When the time came for me to host my first thanksgiving dinner I stood at the stove and could hear his deep kind voice instructing me in my mind as I worked.

“Sis, there must be absolutely no lumps. You cannot take your eyes off of it for a second.” And so on. It came out silky smooth and perfectly seasoned. Delicious. From that day forward I make the gravy wherever I am whether I’m cooking or not. I am now known as the gravy maker.

You will find me on Thursday making the gravy. Uncle Basil will be with me in spirit as I slowly heat the liquid in the roasting pan and mix the flour and water separately. I will add the mixture slowly, all the while using just a simple fork to stir until the gravy is silky and smooth, and I will not for one second take my eyes from the pan.

Love and blessings to all.

Me and Uncle Basil 1982

Brave

My father went to Vietnam with the first ground troop stationed in Da Nang. He ran search and rescue operations pulling artillery and the wounded from behind enemy lines. He was also a cartographer (the study and practice of making maps) in Korea. He parachuted into enemy territory and created models and drawings of the topography.

He holds a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He earned his masters degree in International Relations from Georgetown University, and served our country for twenty-five years.

He was also a wonderful father. Funny, intelligent and kind. He loved clothes. When I was a little girl he worked in London and had his suits made there. He wore crisp white shirts with gold cuff links and a grey flannel top coat and beautiful shoes. He was also a painter, and his paintings graced my childhood home, and now hang in our Truckee cabin.

My girls and I share many of his personal attributes and interests. We all gravitate toward art, culture, clothes and the outdoors.

As I overcome the many obstacles along my path to following my dreams I often think of him. I remind my daughters and myself to be courageous and fearless. I remember him telling me to be brave and never back down, but to watch out for number one. I’ve worked very hard to impart this to my children and model this behavior.

I was talking to my youngest daughter today about choosing a college and the anxiety associated with the many choices and changes we face right now as a family. I advised her to be fearless. Compared to the wars her Grandfather saw, this is nothing, but life of course is relative.

Step into your courage, I advised her with a smile beneath a smile, and I know she will. The apple rarely falls far from the tree.

Love and blessings.

Love Is a Privilege

Paris Thomas – Treasure Island

My recent past has not been easy, but these events have deepened my heart in a way nothing else could.

Yesterday was the funeral of my second cousin. She was a wife and beloved mother of two beautiful girls. She died of cancer.

Over the weekend, my daughter was home from college. We had lunch on Treasure Island and dinner at the club. We drove to Tahoe with friends and stayed up until 2 a.m. talking. She now has perspective on her teen years and did a good deal of apologizing for her antics. We laughed, we cried, and finally fell asleep.

We woke to the most perfect clear and crisp autumn day. I made breakfast. We went to the village and then walked the dog along the lake.

I’ve not been to the Tahoe house since Labor Day and it was clear it needed some attention. I scoured the downstairs bathroom, stripped the bunk beds and did four loads of laundry. I mopped the kitchen floor. Conditioned the leather chairs, and cleaned the windows that overlook the sunny meadow. The next day, I drove home and cooked everyone dinner.

As a mother there is always so much to do. Recently, I’ve enjoyed more freedom to work on my company and my writing. To read, think and plan. It’s been a joy to have time for myself, but love is a privilege and the years I spent tending to my family an investment in my future. Now, the unconditional love that comes back to me is often overwhelming.

As the next chapter unfolds I’ll be doing less cooking, less laundry, less driving, but the love remains. It’s not lost on me that my devotion is a privilege denied to many.

Love and blessings to all.