It was spaghetti sauce making day in my house. An age old tradition dating back to the days of Chef Keith banging around the pots and pans, chopping the onions, browning the meat, and simmering a laundry list of ingredients together all day on the stove. He’d sample it over and over again, sharing each taste test with everyone in the house until when it was time to actually accompany the sauce with pasta, we were already full. Then we’d pull out the freezer bags and load them up for later dinners. Strange how some things can change and still remain the same. I’m the one fusing over the sauce, stuffing the house with it until they are full. Everything else about the ritual remains the same.
One thing that has changed and still remains the same? Keith’s birthday. It still rolls around every January 12, regardless of the fact that he is not here to celebrate. He would have been 57 today. He will forever be 54. So it seems fitting that it was spaghetti sauce day today. There was a part of me that also wanted to rush out and buy one of those Carvel ice cream cakes. It is what we did for every birthday under the Nielsen roof. But of all the markers that tick by from the moment he left, this one is the hardest. The cake would have felt so wrong. How do you smile through the one event that started a life that no longer exists? I’ve survived holidays, our anniversary, and the anniversary of his death with only brief moments of the darkness that rushes into the void he left behind. Not so with his birthday.
Birth and Death are the brackets wrapped around our life. My Pop-Pop’s birthday was Friday. The same day as my sister-in-law, Chrissie’s. His brackets written in cold hard dates on a tomb stone and her story still being written. Still a dot, dot, dot after her birthday. Yesterday, a friend also turned 57. Born just one day before Keith – dot, dot, dot – the days and years still ahead of him, unwritten. We breath our first as a question and we breath our last with the answer. Everything in between is who we are, where we go, what we do, who we touch, what we dream of. The story between the brackets. As hard as it is to think of Keith’s would-have-been 57, as often as I think about brackets only spanning 54 years, I also remind myself that 57 years ago today, Keith breathed his first question. The answer he breathed at his last can only be shared in bits and pieces. By all of us telling the tale of a man that lived life the way we all should between those brackets. He never compromised, he did everything full tilt and in technocolor, and he loved and gave unconditionally to so many. A man who managed to sneak a Carvel cake into the house for every birthday and who would proclaim after each batch of spaghetti sauce that this is the best one he ever made. For all of us who still have dot, dot, dot – a moment of silence – no wait – a moment of singing happy birthday. Somewhere, out there, there’s someone who knows we miss them that can hear it.