Rather my knowledge of an end. It is due to my negligence of personal relationships that I learned today, January 1st, 2013, that a dear friend of mine passed away in November of 2012. This is news I will be processing for a while, but I am compelled to write a few meager words in an attempt to illuminate the profound effect that the life of Steve Anderson had on my own.
I was sixteen years old when I met Steve, a frail man in his early fifties at the time. School was out for the summer and I was looking for a job on the Outer Banks. Steve ran the kitchen at a seasonal seafood buffet then, and he was looking for dishwashers. My employment requirement was a paycheck at anything above minimum wage, and so I became a dishwasher at the Soundside Buffet.
Upon first meeting Steve, one might not be given the impression that he was a kind man; he seemed curt, frustrated, and at times vulgar. I found him to be slightly frightening and downright hilarious. As the summer passed I was moved from washing dishes to doing basic prep work in the kitchen, a time during which I believe he began to enjoy my company. I had always enjoyed his company as I found him to be both personable and entertaining, but the reality was that underneath his rough veneer lay a loving husband, father, and an extremely compassionate human being.
When the summer ended I stayed in touch with Steve, coming back on a weekend here and there during the school year to help in the kitchen. After a while Steve left the restaurant and for about a year we were not in contact.
It was at least a year before a friend of mine told me that he had seen Steve working at a new restaurant, and I was again looking for a summer job. I remember walking into the kitchen of the Bacu Grill and seeing him there, in what I perceived as his true element, and the happiness I felt. When he looked up and saw me I knew he was relieved; not only because he trusted me as a worker, but because he was happy for the time we would again have.
That was the summer I truly learned how to work a kitchen. Yes, I did dishes when they needed doing, but I worked as a classic apprentice beside Steve, a seasoned tradesman, and another senior chef and alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America. I learned about preparation of simple dishes, layout, capacity planning and inventory, ovens and gas lines, health codes, how to properly clean soft shell crabs, how to perfectly clean a tenderloin, and loads of knowledge on dishes and methods that I have kept with me. It was this experience that taught me a great deal of self-reliance, confidence and responsibility, and it seeded in me a passion for true craft and skill.
After the summer we stayed in touch. I worked frequently in the off-season and spent a great deal of time with him and his family at their home. He and his wife DiAnn treated me like a son and their daughters, Kelli and Kim, treated me like a brother. I spent many a night there, cooking dinner, helping with whatever odd-job or chore Steve wanted, and we spent hours chatting or simply enjoying the fading summer evenings.
I have many other memories of our time together, and in the coming days I will meditate on them intently. I lost touch with the Anderson family for a few years, for no other reason than that I was a negligent fool. For this I learned only today that he passed more than a month ago, after he and I had not spoken in at least four years. I will carry this weight for a time, but I digress.
It is not my intent here to focus on this mistake, nor on the details of Steve’s passing, nor even that he has passed. Rather I wish to say simply that I am the person I am, in no small part, because of Steve Anderson. I am honored to have known him, more complete because of him, and grieved to have lost him.
I say to you reader, be you friend, family or stranger: consider those in your life who have played a part in making you a better, fuller person. Honor them in what you do and how you do it, and thank them. In person. Right now.