Mary Bogue is always wondering about how we walk through life, and sees it as a dance; sometimes we're wearing high heels and doing the tango backwards in a man's arms, other times we're line dancing in flats while picking up after kids, and when we're lucky, we're barefootin' it freestyle.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
I have perfected a recipe for dark gingerbread with chunks of dark chocolate, crystallized ginger and dried fruits of apricot, mango, date, pineapple, pears, apple, plum, and even papaya, just meant to be eaten slowly with a cup of hot cocoa or a glass of cold eggnog. It is a “wow” dessert for those who enjoy the bite of ginger paired with the sweet of dark chocolate. I love the way my whole house is perfumed with the scent of comfort and a sense of happiness comes over me and all who enter.
To make this recipe, I always need a trip to Trader Joes to do some dried-fruit wrangling. Don't you just adore Trader Joe's? I do. I love that I can count on Hawaiian shirts in December, cool reusable shopping bags, pine wreaths out front, and things like their own gingerbread coffee which always sells out way before Christmas. One of the things I especially like about Trader Joe's is the folks who work there. In all the years I've gone for my Akmak crackers and peanut butter flavored dog bones, I don't recall ever seeing anything but a joyous countenance. Everyone wants to be of service, wants to know if they can help you find what you need and even offer up a taste of their French onion and gruyere pizza, a sip of their sparkling blueberry juice or a soupcon of coffee, while you fill your basket with whole wheat bread, flax seeded chips and lemon curd.
That's where I met Joi, who was slicing tidbits of something or other and placing them on napkins or scooping spoonfuls into a paper cup for customers to try. Somehow we hit it off, and always got into conversations that kept me there way too long. My daughter did some fine growing up in front of Joi's eyes, and Joi could tell you all about my love life - or lack there of, and what she thought of the current guy in my life.
Joi and I knew how to laugh at life and shake our heads while murmuring, "Mmmm, mmm, mmm!" Conversations always wound back around to our bodies and whether we loved them that day. You can't help but engage in those talks what with the contents of your cart on display. Inevitably, we were never happy with our female forms. Show me a woman who is.
A couple of years ago, my friend Al hosted a huge Christmas soiree at his home, and hired me to do the catering. This was a job for more than one woman, and my daughter had long ago left the house to pursue her teenage dreams of freedom. I called Joi, who even though she showed up more than an hour late, was happy to be well paid and in her groove helping me wrap cantaloupe with prosciutto, make an antipasta tray the size of Chicago, and enough Pannetone bread pudding to make all the revelers smile hugely. You can always tell the hard core cooks at a party - for they have forsaken any political debates, discourse of the weather or talk of New Year's resolutions in order to watch you create some kitchen magic. And Joi and I could entertain while dishing it up. We worked side by side with great grace and efficiency - a well-rehearsed ballet as it were, costumed in our black slacks and white shirts.
The last few times I went to Trader Joe's, Joi was no where to be found. And I reminded myself that in an attempt to cut back unnecessary expenditures, I had cut back the journeys to Trader Joe's. I had to admit, I missed our conversations about Match.com, eHarmony and whatever news I had about the "latest internet date." You should have seen her shake her head over the Mormon wrestler guy (my first blog here). Nonetheless, Joi would start in, while readjusting the white straw cowgirl hat she wore, "I need to get me on Match.com and find me a guy, but I wouldn't know where to start. First I got to lose some weight and you know I can't lose any of this big, black..." and she would lean in to me and finish the sentence with a whisper, "ass of mine!" It was true. Joi had a tiny waist which magically met with a very..."developed" derriere. She continued, "Now it's one thing to find someone who wants a gal THIS black, but girl, with this here butt, too...I dunno." I laughed. Joi's complexion was indeed the color of 85% cocoa dark chocolate, complete with a tempered shine. In my eyes, Joi was beautiful. No, not the Tyra Banks or the Queen Latifah beauty. It was Joi's approach to life that was so lovely.
So, like I said, I was shopping for ingredients to make my Christmas gingerbread treats, and couldn't stand that once again, Joi was not in her place. Maybe she had the day off again and Matt, the happy-go-lucky guy with a grey goatee, who was busy serving up triangles of ham, could tell me when she would be in next. I would have to come by and see her and just catch up. I wheeled my cart over, and while "White Christmas" played over the loudspeaker, I asked. "Hey, Matt! Where in the world is Joi? I haven't seen her in forever!" He gave me a weak smile and seemed to wait for the mother with the grabby-handed child to leave the sample table. "How well do you know Joi?" he questioned with his head tilted to one side.
How well do I know Joi? Internally I was saying, "Are you kidding? We've talked about security leaks and bladder leaks, children who back-talk their mothers and appear ungrateful and in her opinion need a good whooping with a switch. We talked about the world needing a little peace and a little piece of mind that a garage sale could bring. How well do I know Joi?" Iindeed.
"Well," I thought, “Enough that she's in my cell phone directory. Why?"
Matt hung his head, took a breath and then looked up to me. "I hate to be the one to tell you, but Joi is gone."
"Gone? You mean gone as in retired? Or gone as in moved to another store closer to her home?"
My heart sunk. I knew which "gone" he meant before he could utter it.
"Nah." his breath escaped like a whoosh from a hot oven. "Joi passed away almost six months ago. I'm so sorry...."
I was dumbfounded. Joi? There was only one Joi, so there was no need to clarify if we were talking about the same woman. I listened from inside my own head like a mayonnaise jar with the sounds kind of making a weird echo. "She hadn't come to work for three days in a row and so we called the police..." Matt's hand mindlessly obeyed him, doing his job while going on, "They did a welfare check and found her in her bathroom. She died of a heart attack. You know, she lived alone. She was there on that floor for three days, all alone."
My own heart sank. I could see her there; hear her last thoughts, "Lord, like this?" Her hand to her chest, not even able to get to the phone before falling. I could feel her eyes roll back, the pain of an elephant sitting on her chest and her acquiescing, making her peace, saying her prayer, asking for forgiveness, reliving her life and then it was over.
Matt broke my trance, "I'm so sorry. But a part of her will always be here." He looked upwards and pointed to the wall where Joi's hat was placed over her sample station."
I mumbled something, thanked him, mumbled something else and pushed my cart along. It all hit me when I got to the car. I wept all the way home. Joi was gone. She did not leave an inheritance, I was sure of that. She did not write any famous books or record a standard to be played over and over on the airwaves. Joi's legacy was her warmth, her desire to serve the public with a smile and a heart full of gratitude, motherly and sisterly wisdom and a genuine love for people. Her legacy to me was a roll of her eyes, the sistah-to-sistah talks, the hugs and laughter and her live-and-let-live take on life. I loved her.
For a couple of days, I thought of little else except for Joi's demise. How could she have been gone for six whole months and I didn't know or think to ask? Had I taken Joi for granted or expected Joi to always be in my life, but not IN my life? I had lots to think about as I whirred up my batches of dark gingerbread and realizing I needed to return to Trader Joe's for more crystallized ginger.
Matt was there again, and we nodded, and had our own little moment of acknowledgement. And then he remembered something. "Hey, look, she really is all around us. Look what someone brought in today." From beneath the counter he lifted a tall white glass votive candle with a single feather tied to it. "And the lady who brought it didn't know Joi was gone either. She just brought it because it's Christmas."
“Yeah. Wow.” I said beneath my breath. I wished Matt a Merry Christmas, and once again left Trader Joe’s with my reusable bags and once again thinking about my friend. Here’s my take on it all: You see, when you're as authentic and as approachable as Joi, it's only natural that you should have a little Joi in your own heart and want to share it.
So, as 2009 comes to an end and 2010 is here in a matter of hours, I do believe that if asked what my New Year's resolution is, it will be to live with a little more Joi in my heart. No matter if your work is mighty or humble; be kind to others, smile a little and always be reminded that you're just fine the way you are right now, and your butt...is never too big. Everything is exactly how it's supposed to be right now. I wish you Joi.