Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Stinky Cheeses, Garlic Dills and Time

"Hot" didn't begin to describe the weather as we de-planed in San Antonio, Texas on September 10th.  It was near 90 degrees with humidity to match AND it was approaching midnight.  We flew down from Portland, Ore. to watch our son graduate from Air Force Basic Military Training at Lackland AFB.  The Pacific Northwest may get warm during the Summer months, but, our world up there cools down at night. 
"Jesus CHRIST!"  grumbled Lisa, "this is re-DIC-culous!" as we walked down the sidewalk to our rental car shuttle.  
"If I wanted THIS crap, I coulda gone to New Orleans...!"

Mamma needed her AC and needed it quick.  Thankfully, the shuttle, our car and the motel room all had turbo-powered cooling systems that brought her body core temp back down to 68 or so.   It was like a Snickers commercial when someone turns into a diva or some other cranky-puss when they get a little hungry.  That's my wife and anything above 78 degrees.   The next two days weather, unfortunately, would have our first night pale in comparison...My concern, however, was the jar of homemade pickles in my suitcase.  I hoped it had made the trip intact. 

The following morning, we drove onto base for the first of three days of ceremonies.  The families and friends of graduating airmen had a briefing in a 2000 seat auditorium which was to prepare us to see the effects of 8 weeks of basic training.  Several military personnel addressed us on the training, transformation and mission of our newest members of the Air Force.  T-shirts, photos, mugs and anything else you might want to commemorate the day were available in the massive retail lobby out front. 

We made our way out to the concrete bleachers and staked a spot where perhaps we might find a bit of shade.  No such luck.  After an hour or so, the squadrons marched onto the tarmac, orders were shouted, dignitaries spoke, proclamations made and finally, we were allowed to retrieve our Airmen for the day. 
I bounced down the steps and found his squadron.  They all looked the same with buzzed heads,  BDUs (camo/fatigues) and I began to panic that I may not find him.  Then, I saw his nose from the side, but, it was attached to this lean rail of a man standing at parade rest, back straight with shoulders squared and eyes fixed forward.  His chin was tucked in and his cover (cap) rested just over his eyes. 
Standing next to him for a second, I was taken with admiration. 

"Liam," I said.  He just stood there. Swarms of adoring families hurried about shouting and jostling for pictures. 
"Liam, it's me." 
"You gotta tap me out, dad."  he informed me, still looking forward.  So, I put my hand on his shoulder and said,
"Hey, it's good to see you." 
At that point, he relaxed, turned his head, smiled and stepped out of formation.  Mom arrived by that time and gave him a brief hug.  We were advised to not give overt public displays of affection, but, his handshake was one for the ages.  I won't soon forget the sure grip, respectful eye contact and his addressing each man congratulating him as "Sir."

We proceeded off the parade ground and towards the parking lot.  He walked deliberately and cursed when he saw the water bottles and debris left in the stands,
"All these people crappin' up my area.  Look at this trash we're gonna have to clean up..."
Mom and I laughed out loud at the irony of the source.

We had decided that once we got back to the room, he could probably use a meal not seen in two months. One of his favorites is a platter of stinky cheeses with assorted sliced deli meat and artisan bread, on a big table with everyone digging in.  If our inventory is available, a jar or two of homemade garlic dills add just the right 'Zing!'
As Liam and I got into shorts and T-shirts, Lisa set up the tray and opened the pickles.

"What?!  You guys brought home made dills?!  Suh-WEET!  Whoa, 'Humbolt Fog,' 'Aged Gouda' and Delice de Bourgogne?!  This is gonna be nice."  Mom set everything out and we gathered around the small, motel table examining the assortment of delectables, each armed with a knife for spreading.

A blessing was said.

I couldn't tell you what we talked about; wasn't really listening, I was taken with my son who had become something different, something better.
He wasn't a teenage boy anymore with all the answers who couldn't fold a shirt, comb his hair or make a bed.  His words and actions were measured now, deliberate.  He listened to others respectfully and spoke calmly; he observed.

He gets it.

It wasn't easy, as Mom and I can tell you.  We had a couple of challenging years there in high school that made us wonder what we were doing wrong.  How can years of repetitive, decent Life-lessons all of a sudden blow up?!  We prayed and prayed for deliverance and mercy; to allow our son to not just survive, but, to really make something of himself, to be happy doing what he was passionate about.

Sitting there in that motel room watching Liam fill himself, I got to thinking: This whole table of goodness has undergone some form of trial.
The cheeses started with milk which was inoculated, then, separated into curds and whey.  The curds pressed, formed and aged to become something special.
The salami, soppressata, and prosciutto each were cut, cured and hung to dry.
Our pickles: picked at a local farm, stuffed into quart jars with seasonings, topped with a boiling brine and aged for two months before sampling.
A son: the indiscretions of youth, nearly missing his enlistment opportunity, re-doubling his efforts and commitment, and now a military man.
Good things take time to cure, to mature.

We need chemical processes, stress, and hardship to break things down to their most base level to create a new and distinct experience.
A transformation.
Allowing the heat of garlic and chile in our family pickles to subside and meld into a palatable flavor; softening the rough edges.  Scraping the natural mold off a cheese to enjoy the fruits of time and talent from dairymen the world over.  Rolling a paper thin piece of Italian ham and marveling at the perfection of pork, salt and air.  A nineteen year old young man, fresh out of Boot Camp, carefully inspecting his shirt for any crumbs, then, clearing the table, wiping it down and asking if there was anything else he could do.


We didn't intend for our parenting journey to have taken the turns (and occasional crashes) it did, but, we stuck with him and He stuck with us.  It took time, hard work, sacrifice, tears, self-doubt, but, ultimately Faith to bring us to this joyful chapter.

On 9/11, 2014, "Patriot Day," Hall of Fame catcher, Johnny Bench got knocked off my Hero's Perch.
Liam Quinn sits there now...eating stinky cheese. 

Take care, God bless and remember: 
"Food, Faith, Family and Friends; 
the Best Things in Life aren't Things"


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