“What are you doing after school?” one of my friend-slash-colleagues casually inquired of me yesterday afternoon, as in the teachers’ lounge we lamented that the weather was equal to closing Interstate 80 but not the schools, worrying a bit about our upcoming drives home and, even more so, the ability of buses full of students to maneuver safely on the icy roads. “A former student of mine is coming to dinner,” I replied. My colleague, who is my senior in age yet my junior in the profession, having transitioned over from another career field mid-life, got an interesting expression on his face. I was thankful that he didn’t require me to interpret its meaning before responding: “That’s really amazing. These relationships we form with young people — to see them grow up and become adults and then get to spend time with them in that arena of life — man, I hope someday I have that.” This man is a terrific teacher, very invested in young people, so it was easy for me to respond with “I’m sure you will.”
I got the kids from daycare, swung by the grocery store, got home, put on Counting Crows, and started dinner. Titus, Zooey, and Sonja were watching Sesame Street in the basement as I prepared my grandmother’s amazing two-ingredient recipe for mac-n-cheese, whipped up some broccoli and some sausage, and started to set the table. Patrick, or “Uncle Patrick” to my children, arrived while I was cooking.
It was more than ten years ago that I was Patrick’s teacher. We kept in touch when he graduated, and when he moved to New York to pursue acting. When Sonja and I took a second honeymoon in New York, we had lunch with Patrick. When we went to Kansas City and Patrick was in a kid-friendly show (Madagascar), we took Titus, who just the other night was singing “I like to move it move it” in his play room, before all of us went out to dinner. Since then, Patrick has fallen in love with our kids and they with him, and though he’s a full-time actor in Kansas City now, he visits fairly often and the kids are always as excited to see him as we are. Last night was no exception. Uncle Patrick was successful in getting Titus to eat all of his food, cutting up his sausage for him, and they sang “itsy bitsy spider” while Sonja and I threw the dishes in the wash. We feel incredibly fortunate to have him in our lives, and we know it’s mutual.
With dinner was wine, and the wine was excellent. Frank Family Vineyards just doesn’t make mistakes, and their 2015 Chardonnay from Carneros is simply further evidence of that. Creamy yet vibrant, it is elegant and smooth upon the palate. To me, it embodies the Carneros region, a place where delicate Pinot Noir grows well, by neglecting to become an over-the-top oak-n-butter monster, in favor of subtlety at every turn. Notes of baked apple, hints of butter, but all in balance, the restrained nature of this wine gives it a leg up on most of the Napa Chardonnays I’ve tried lately, and it is modestly priced by comparison. It paired well with the sausage, pasta, and broccoli, and even better with conversation and catching up with Uncle Patrick.
After dinner, Patrick helped me put Titus to bed while Sonja nursed Zooey to sleep a floor below. We read stories to my little man, and then Patrick put him in his crib for the night before we retired downstairs to meet up with Sonja and finish the bottle of wine over further conversation. I think, going into teaching, if you’d have asked if I wanted to become friends with my former students, the question would have puzzled me, but as I see it now, I cannot really imagine how it could be any other way. Teachers and students form bonds over wrestling with difficult material, and spend a lot of time together. We know one another well, and its impossible not to admire the young people you watch grow into adulthood. That so many years after our classroom relationship has ended a few of these folk enjoy spending further time with me, and invest their time and love in my family, is one of the greatest honors of my career. I feel so lucky to have that.
Cheers to the friends who invest most deeply in our families,