Thanksgiving 1978. Senior year of college. I was the proud owner of my first car, a 1964 Ford Galaxie that I had bought from a friend of my father’s for $100.00. Since I only lived across town from home, getting there for holidays was no big deal. My friend, E; however, lived in New Orleans, and her holiday ride had fallen through. Never one to pass up an opportunity to travel, I offered to drive her there in my newly refurbished car, if she would pay for gas. On the way, I offered to drop off another friend in Jackson, MS, so this would be quite the road trip, as I had never been to either place.
The trip alone is worthy of a blog post, but the most important thing about the whole event was that I fell in love. With New Orleans. Thanksgiving is a good time to go there because 1) it’s not so crowded and 2) it’s not so hot. In fact, the weather was nearly perfect. E and I wandered the Quarter with her fiance, drank chicory coffee and ate puffy beniegts dusty with powdered sugar, watched street artists and performers, and celebrated Thanksgiving with her family. I threw myself into the scents and sounds of a city on the river, the unforgettable aroma of an oyster bar, the tart fragrance of olive relish on a muffelatta, the odd smell of horse manure in the middle of a modern city. When Sunday afternoon came, I didn’t want to leave.
On the way home, I made the promise to myself that after graduation, I would live here. My college career had consisted of spending 4 years getting a solid background in “the theater” with no thought of how to earn an actual living. I figured if I couldn’t get work in NOLA, where could I?
Despite a few setbacks in the ensuing time (a broken foot and a nearly-totaled car), I set the goal for moving as August 1979. I would finish my final season at Six Flags Over Georgia, and E was getting married that month. I had to be there for the wedding, so might as well just stay.
I barely remember my parents standing in their carport waving goodbye as I drove down the street. I was looking ahead, not back. I made it to the condo that E’s family had reserved for the wedding party with my worldly belongings in the back of my car. We laughed and cried, celebrating both our new lives. She told me that once the “big day” was behind us, to go to the restaurant where she waitressed during school and ask about work there. I didn’t want to wait tables, but I had some cooking experience, so figured I could get a job in the kitchen. What the heck, right?
The wedding was fun, but I didn’t hear much of it, as I spent most of the ceremony kneeling in front of a huge fan (Catholic wedding) trying desperately to cool off a church full of votive candles in August. In New Orleans. Funny, but I don’t remember being all that hot. I do remember being oh, so grateful for my short hair, as the bridesmaid beside me had her updo ripped apart by the “breeze”.
Within a week of moving, I had a job and a place to live. I rented a small apartment on Frenchman Street just east of Esplanade Avenue, one of the borders of the French Quarter. It was in a building that looked like a converted motel, and it had its own parking lot, which was a major bonus in NOLA! All for the whopping price of $180.00 a month. I was set! I did get a job in the kitchen, working nights. E still waitressed while deciding on whether to pursue graduate school in international studies or law school (she would eventually do both). Despite being a newlywed, E and I managed to hang out quite a bit. Her new husband, an electrical engineer/new lawyer, was working for a patent law firm at the time, and one of his clients had given his office a supply of automatic rice cookers. For some reason, he brought 2 of them home, and E generously gave me one. Not having much in the way of kitchen supplies, I was thrilled. Plus, I thought it was just the coolest thing ever–put in the rice, put in the water, cover, and push a button. About 20 mins later, viola–perfect rice! I could never click that little button without thinking of E and all the fun we were having living in The Big Easy.
Last night, when I made dinner for G and me, I made rice in that rice cooker. The top has disappeared somewhere in the 30 years between New Orleans and Pueblo, just like my old car and even the city of New Orleans that I once loved so much, but the cooker has managed to survive and accompany me where ever I’ve lived since then. I’ve had that rice cooker longer than any other thing in my kitchen. A few weeks ago, one of our friends here was cleaning out some of her things, and she offered us a new, fancy cooker, barely used. I thought, well, maybe it’s time to give the old girl a rest, so I took the new one and put the old one in the garage for give-away.
I used the new one 3 times and realized that my old girl cooked the rice WAY better than this one. Yesterday, I asked G if she would swap them out for me, and when I came up from work, my old faithful was waiting. There are too many memories in that little appliance. I can’t so easily say goodbye to the trim white bowl that sits so nicely atop my pantry cupboard. It’s the right size and the right weight. It came from a dear friend. It makes me smile every time I use it, so why would I ever give it up as long as it still works as well as it does?
Sure, technology is great, but there is no technology that will ever beat the strength of good friends.
Thanks, E, for a lifetime of memories. May our friendship and our little rice cooker last for another 30 years!