Bon Appétit Vietnamese Style


Sunday night the General asked me a strange question. She asked: “What do you have on your bucket list? Like I’ve said before, “She is a list maker”. She had just returned from two days in Odessa where she attended the memorial service for Bill Cook, the pastor who officiated at our wedding. Unfortunately, I had work related obligations that I couldn’t easily miss. In addition, I also needed to be at church on Sunday. Consequently, I didn’t get go with her to the service. The General and her brother drove together from Johnson City to Odessa to pay their respects.


Maybe asking about my bucket list had some relationship to having just attended the memorial service? I don’t know. I thought it was an odd question. I didn’t think to inquire why she was asking. If I had given more thought to the question, I’d have asked in response: “Why? Am I dying?” Unfortunately, I didn’t think that quickly. Sometimes I’m a day late and a dollar short.


I’m not a list maker. I’m an impromptu person. If you make a list, you’re tied to an agenda. If you simply go with the flow and yield to opportunities as they surface, it eliminates a lot of stress. Besides that, I like surprises! On the other hand, some things are important enough that making a list might be advantageous. Otherwise, life might get lost in living and I might not get around to ensuring I’ve done it all, seen it all, and enjoyed every moment.  I don’t want to leave anything important out of the mix.


Interestingly at dinner on Sunday (that means lunch on any other day of the week – it was the noon hour) I had the thought that I needed to be more adventuresome. After church Andrea asked: “Dad, would you like to go to lunch with us? We are going into South Austin, but I think you’ll really like the place. Besides that, you’ll have an opportunity to eat with chopsticks. I know you enjoy that.”


How could I say: “No?” Kevin added, “The restaurant is really good. We ate their last week. I think you’ll really like it.” I responded by asking: “What did you eat?” I think it was Andrea who answered. She said: “I had octopus”. Without verbalizing the thought, “Oh my, what I have just gotten myself into?” was the question rolling around in my head. When it comes to a broad variety of cuisine delicacies, both Andrea and Kevin are very adventuresome (actually I almost said “strange”). Truthfully, I’m not all that brave when it comes to coloring outside the lines at mealtime.


As we headed into Austin after church, I had a flashback of dining experiences that were too awful to forget. The General and I had only been married about a year and a half. We were living in Arlington and headed to Odessa for a long weekend. We finally stopped for dinner (the 7:00 p.m. hour on a weekday) in Abilene. I don’t remember the name of the Pizza restaurant, but I do remember the awful taste of anchovies. How was I supposed to know that anchovies were fish and not a spice? I had never had anchovies before.


The next memory that came to mind was a dining experience in Lubbock, TX. The year was 1970. I remember the year because I was in new worker orientation with the Texas Department of Public Welfare. At any rate, I had dinner one evening in a Chinese food restaurant. Who knows, maybe back then I was adventuresome when it came to dining?  If a little Chinese mustard would be good, a lot of it would be better. Right? Did I mention that I hadn’t had Chinese mustard before? Trust me, it is now on a list of the things I know to avoid at all costs. Truthfully, I’d never tasted paint remover before. You know, the kind of paint remover that you can no longer purchase because of some kind of environmental regulations.  The kind that has the capacity to kill you.  At any rate, when I think of Chinese mustard, I intuitively equate that to eating paint remover. My mouth was on fire! I couldn’t get enough water to drink.


Did my daughter really say she had selected octopus for dinner the last time she’d been to the restaurant were we were headed. I’d somehow get though this, but excitement had been replaced with a sense of dread. What had I gotten myself into?


Several years ago (twenty years to be exact) my friend Moe and I were in El Paso. At the time, we both worked for Buckner Children and Family Services. We had traveled to El Paso because Buckner had been asked to take over the operation of a new community center that was being built in a Colonia just outside El Paso. As we collaborated with other agencies, talked with folks in the midst of power and visited with a few judges,  an invitation was extended for lunch.


As you might imagine, I could already taste the Mexican food and we hadn’t even left the Colonia’s location for the restaurant. As it turned out, the person who made the restaurant selection opted for Indian food rather than Mexican Food. What can I say, “If you like Indian food, God Bless You”! I’m not a fan. To the best of my ability since that time until now, I’ve avoided curry or even the scent of it.  In addition, the meal was memorable for a couple of other reasons. The person driving the car that Moe and I were riding in was from College Station. Twenty years ago, we were  both relatively young. The driver, on the other hand, was about the age I am now or so it seemed.  Her name was Katy and she was a talker.  She also liked to look around and take it all in.  She looked at everything other than the freeway while she was driving. In the process of her talking, we narrowly avoided hitting another car. It really was a very close call.  In addition, the dinner conversation we had with the lady who recommended the Indian restaurant and one of her colleagues didn’t go well. It didn’t go well at all!  The lady had anticipated that her agency would be asked to take over the operation of the community center.  She was not a happy camper!   Who would have thought that food could bring up so many memories?  I also think selection of the restaurant was passive aggressive behavior on her part.


In speaking of the restaurant where we dined on Sunday, my daughter referred to it as food adventure. She said, “Dad you’ll like this. Mother wouldn’t”. So was she buttering me up or was she making an astute observation? The restaurant was quaint. I formed that opinion even before I went inside.  It was also a restaurant that served only Vietnamese food! Did I mention that I’ve never eaten Vietnamese food before? I guardedly looked at the menu hoping against hope that I’d find something that would work. The first item on the menu was a jolt to my system. It was a dish containing liver. Did I mention that I don’t eat liver?  Been there – done that – never again!


Long story – short: It actually turned out to be an incredible dining experience. Would I do it again? You bet! The initial fright associated with “What am I eating?” wore off pretty quickly. My daughter helped out a lot. For one thing, she picked up what appeared to be a weed out of my bowl. Seriously, it looked just like one of the weeds that previously grew in our flowerbeds before we replaced them with river rocks. I don’t remember what she called the plant, but she tore off the leaves and replaced them on top of my dinner. I had a flash back to when she was two year’s old and I lovingly assisted her with her plate. I guess what goes around comes around. By the way, the weed served with my meal had a good flavor.


At some point during the meal, I recognized that I was completely relaxed. All of the anxiety that I had initially experienced had been replaced with a sense of adventure that I was doing something I’d never done before. I like that! Maybe I need to opt to go on more food adventures in the future. Who knows, I might find something I like as well as a New York strip, but I doubt it.  In addition, I’m going to compile my bucket list.  I don’t want to leave anything out!


All My Best!




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