In the mid 1960’s, I found myself out of work. One day at the exact moment the phone man was disconnecting the phone line, I was answering an ad for a cook. Part time, temporary hourly. I put on my coat – which happened to be a muskrat, and jumped in my car – a little red sports car, and I drove all the way across the city from Imperial Beach to Ocean Beach to apply.
They hired me, and for years I drove every day from one side of the city to the other to shop and layout meals for Joan and Phil. Sometimes, I would only work three days a week cooking two meals a day for two or three days at a time. Marking the containers, labeling them: Wednesday lunch, salad Joan. Friday dinner, Phil, microwave 4 minutes. That sort of thing.
I was always grateful that they lived in an unusual cottage high above the ocean on Sunset Cliffs. Imagine snapping beans or taking peas from a pod while sitting on a rough wooden step in the sun. Gulls wheeled by. Pelicans swooped below in line with the surf. The sound of the sea surrounding you and the warmth of the sun on your shoulders was a true gift.
Perhaps it was in the early 70’s when Joan asked if I would mind cooking for a neighbor on a very part time basis. I went down the alley to met Barbara and Charlie. She went to England several times a year, she told me, and could I cook Charlie’s dinners while she was gone. Simple stuff. Sweetbreads in a crème sauce. That sort of thing. So I’d go from the light airy rooms facing the sea to a magical, tiny art filled home that had the first plant filled atrium with a waterfall I’d ever seen.
Charlie was a painter. His was a really impressive portfolio with a degree from Princeton, his Masters from the Chicago Art Institute, and years of travel with brushes in his hand. I didn’t notice much as I stired something in the tiny kitchen. I’d view his paintings from Paris…painted with the expatriates of the 20’s, his work from North Africa, the beauty and power of New Mexico color, Mexico color and light, and magic from Italy.
I didn’t think much of it. Too tight, I couldn’t see beyond the surface. I thought that perhaps they needed me because Charlie had only one hand. Perhaps they needed me to fix dinners because Charlie drank. I’d fix the one meal, talk a bit, and head south on the freeway to my kids and maybe my husband if he wasn’t at work.
Today I would have hired someone else to fix Charlie’s dinners, and I would have sat down to listen to his stories. Not only did he paint with the expatriates in Paris, he was a WPA mural artist, and he taught at the Chouinard Art Institute at its peak. Later worked as a designer in the aerospace industry. Today I am in awe. I’m ashamed of the youthful me. This was a brilliant and creative man, and I hurried away home every night.