From the Kitchen – Lessons in Love and Leadership

“The true measure of any great society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi 

On the day that eight restaurants statewide collaborated to raise over $100,000 for No Kid Hungry, Boston chef Andy Husbands emailed encouragement while urging us as industry leaders to adopt a credo: “As people who feed people, no child should ever be hungry.”

I struggled later in requoting dude’s gospel while welcoming 90-plus generous supporters to Cobblestones’ fundraiser. “Allergies,” I lied.

Music, movies, Tolstoy, speeches. I love quotes. Although Will Farrell cracks me up, as do cutesy gift shop refrigerator magnets, I favor words that shed powerful light in an instant. In his own moments of epiphany, my father-in-law says: “Dawn breaks over Marblehead.” But his advice the year I married his daughter carries the greatest gravitas to this day. “Be kind.”

“Everyone lies” was an eye-opening truism from a philosophical former chef, although I don’t imagine you’ll see it on a throw pillow anytime soon.

“Staff needs to know the gun is loaded” consoled chef Marc Spooner in 2001 as I commiserated over firing a beloved tardy employee. Truth. Although I prefer to keep the “gun” of authority concealed, consequence is a professional imperative.

Like a wise man straight outta Jerusalem, mentor Uncle Kenny says, “It’s just business,” and as my no-nonsense wife, Kathy, reminds: “Often the greatest regret in firing someone is that you didn’t do it sooner.” After 31 years of marriage and business, she could fill this page with worthy quotes!

Her favorite? “Take the high road, it’s less congested.” She has remained on point since the git-go, and in this way is sort of like Omar of HBO’s The Wire: “A man got to have a code.”

Fastened into JetBlue — for my “I’m out” reset-escape from ugly, taunting March — was my best chance to finish reading an old section of the Sunday New York Times. My mind regularly insists that I focus otherwise, the endless cycle of my reality.

I bore down on the Arts & Leisure pages, committed to finally finishing writer Nikole Hannah-Jones’ depiction of the movie “Moonlight.” She attributed the success of the co-creators in part to “… hard work, intelligence, sheer will … so much depends on luck and timing. On not making the irreversible mistake. On meeting the right person at the right time who pushes in the right direction.”

Wait, what? I read it again. Get. Out. Of. My head.

And there they were — damned allergies — fingers pinching back that sting in the nose as I recalled in a dream-like flash flood: years of amazing fortune, luck, hard work and sacrifice; too many close calls in avoiding the irreversible mistake; so often the right timing; the many who have always been there; family.

Behind humidified eyes, weaving through all of it, imagery of my “… right person,” Kathy, pushing gently but relentlessly in the right direction.

Hannah-Jones wrecked me on that plane, my emotional escape synching at 5,000 feet. I stopped reading — my inevitability — reminiscing over swirling and prescient quotes now demanding my attention, so much I have received from others. I chuckled lightly (side-eyeing middle-seat-lady for signs of distress) at the irony of another Kathy favorite: “Work smarter, not harder.” She who flew coast-coast for two decades championing medical innovation — who’d hit the ground running at 6:30 a.m. and return home at midnight to start preparing for the next day, which might actually have begun with: “Hon. You can’t wear those shoes with that …”

Baby knows shoes, too.

I recalled so many other lessons on that flight. Of humility and being OK with not knowing (Pop Norman, 1974). About the pain of successful negotiations (Uncle Kenny, 1994) and maintaining your temper in seeking optimal results.  (Thanks, Dad, I’ve gotten better.)

But through the years, it’s my man-child brother, David, who owns the one that resonates eternally, whispered upon the day we buried our father’s father.

That evening, he and I sat with our cherished and now-widowed “Nanny” on our chilly childhood back porch. The three of us huddled pink-eyed in the dark, each clutching our can of cheap beer. As the somber conversation turned to my gay cousin and her partner’s recent adoption of a baby, our old-world grandmother shook her gentle head, and with the slightest brogue disapproved: “Ochh, what’s this world coming to?”

As if on cue, Dave differed. “I don’t know, Nan. I think all anybody really wants in this life is to be loved.”

On a day that this 84-year-old had just said goodbye to her dearest friend of 55 years, I watched a light touch her weary eyes, her loving-yet-biased heart melt … “I do believe you are right, my Davey-lad, I believe you are right.”

“Be kind.”

 

Scott Plath, along with his wife Kathleen, owns Cobblestones of Lowell and moonstones, in Chelmsford, Mass. Scott possesses a deep well of humorous and insightful stories, which can be found here on our website.

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