Nate knew of my disinterest in cooking. After we’d been married a few years, he said, “If I ever make a lot of money, I’ll hire a cook for you. What kind would you like?”
Without pausing, I said, “A Chinese cook.”
That’s still true. Beef with broccoli outdoes filet mignon in my book any day. Over the years I tried my hand at following Chinese recipes with mid-level success, but generally it’s more fun (and more delicious) to order take-out. We had our favorite restaurant back in the Chicago suburbs and have found a wonderful one here in Michigan, the China Cafe.
Nate’s last restaurant meal was there, three days before we learned of his cancer. Mary, Bervin and the two of us had gone out just for the fun of it, and Nate had eaten every bit of his shrimp with lobster sauce, astounding us all. His appetite had waned by then, and normally he wouldn’t have touched 75% of his dinner. This robust eating was a testimony to his love of Chinese food, and the three of us look back fondly on that night.
Tonight Mary and I decided to split an order of beef with broccoli from the China Cafe while we watched an episode of our beloved “Father Knows Best.” It was my turn to pick up the food, and when I did, our favorite little waitress was solicitous of my welfare. “How you doing now,” she said, leaning toward me. We talked for ten minutes, and she wanted to know about each of our kids, where they were located and how each was faring. She repeatedly said, “I’m sorry,” and when I referred to Nate as “Mr. Shrimp with Lobster Sauce,” she remembered.
Her life isn’t easy, working non-stop at a restaurant. Her husband is the cook, and by the time the two of them close up, clean up and drive the 30 minutes home, it must be nearly 1:00 AM. She probably isn’t asleep until shortly before her two year old son is waking up. But she became animated with joy in answering my questions about him, describing how busy and energetic he is. Surely she struggles with having to be away from him most of the hours of every day.
She’s also a stepmother to her husband’s first son, a high school senior she’s trying to help with college applications. I admire what she and her husband have accomplished in a country that isn’t their own. They work hard and keep their restaurant open for business even when diners are few, like tonight (one table-full). She is the biblical definition of perseverance coupled with good cheer.
Helen could easily justify a sour attitude, taking orders from people all day and being on her feet until they hurt. Although I’m old enough to be her mother (and practically her grandmother), I’m learning from her fine example. I like her a great deal and would love to know her better.
Maybe if I eat enough beef with broccoli, I will.
“All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.” (Proverbs 15:15)