Her Dinner With Andre.  By Lisa Ellex

Her Dinner With Andre. By Lisa Ellex

. 3 min read

A writer recalls her mother’s touching and generous offer to cook dinner for members of her building’s staff, thereby creating a community filled with connection and friendship.

Hard as I try, I cannot think of a cook worse than my mother.

At age 14, I took over in our kitchen as I could no longer decipher my mother’s abstract meal offerings. What’s more, the newly-released Swedish food pyramid had hipped me to the fact that my mother’s meals yielded little nutritional value and LOTS of calories. How I lived to the ripe, old age of 14, I’ll never know.

When my mother retired from her government job as a paralegal, she moved to a New York City apartment building with over 1,000 units. She often bragged about the sizable building staff that was on call 24/7, and how they would happily replace a lightbulb, even at 2:00 a.m. As the Christmas season neared, my mom wanted to show her appreciation to the building personnel, but with staff so large, cash gifts were prohibitive for her. When she told me she had sent personal invitations to each member of the staff, requesting their company at a “home-cooked dinner for two”, my first thought was to call in a bomb scare to her building. Instead, I decided to leave it to fate.

So as not to show favoritism, my mother offered each employee the same menu: rigatoni with marinara sauce and Pecorino Romano, a green salad, soda, a dessert, and coffee. When the “big night” arrived, I made sure to keep my phone close by so as not to miss the post-dinner report. At 10:00 p.m. I received a call relaying how mom and the night doorman, Andre, “had a wonderful time getting to know each other.” “How did he like the food?” I asked. “He loved it!” she replied. God bless Andre.

Wondering if Andre called out with food poisoning, I phoned my mother the next evening to get the lay of the land. She rushed me off the phone saying she had to set the table for “Tony the maintenance man” as it was nearing his meal break. My mother continued this activity throughout the holiday season, each day regaling me with personal stories of the building staff. She knew their age, their heritage, where they lived, where they grew up, their relationship status, the names of their partners and children, how long they’ve been at their job, and their life’s ambition.

My mother continued this tradition for the years she remained a tenant of the building. When she passed, the building staff sent flowers. Some came to the wake. In the days to follow, each and every staff member I encountered told me what a special woman my mom was and how much they enjoyed sharing that Christmas meal with her. That’s when I came to realize that the true Christmas gift my mother had offered was not her “home-cooked dinner” -- it was her company, her humor, her kind words, her advice, and her encouragement. It was her friendship.

After the loss of my mother, I began to cherish the company of my older female friends: They possess wisdom and a serenity that has not yet been cultivated in my contemporaries. Though I once believed such friendships seemed unlikely, I am now a witness to the alchemy that forges these special connections. So look in on your elders. Call them, drop them a note, check in on them, bring them a cup of coffee, a book, a flower, go for a walk, or just sit and chat. Hear their stories and learn from them. Make a difference in their day, if only for a little while. When the day is done, it is always the giver who feels fulfilled. Whomever she may be.

Take Me Back To The Crush Letter No 39

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