As I sit here enjoying my breakfast sandwich I can’t help but ponder the little yellow plate. We have lots of yellow plates but as I think about this one, I’m transported far far away to a place and time so different from the world I live in now. It’s amazing how one can be swept away in the blink of an eye with nothing but our thoughts and memories.
I truly enjoyed this journey back to my grandma’s house in Kansas in the mid 70’s. I can smell the chicken frying as I walk into her pantry with the refrigerator, the shelves on the back wall and the colorful plates and glasses. I loved the colorful metal glasses that were always so cold when we filled them with Kool-Aid or the likes. And then there’s the North bedroom which was everyone’s favorite place at Christmas time.
When I offered to make Luke a breakfast sandwich he asked what kind. A bacon and egg breakfast sandwich I replied, with the chef in me excited about the rendered bacon and fat that I had in the refrigerator. Oh, just like Starbucks he replied and suddenly the competition was on.
Was I good enough to beat Starbucks? Would I be the “BEST” breakfast sandwich maker or would it be that coffee chain that I’ve come to both love and hate.
What is our obsession with being the best? I mean really, don’t we all know that there will always be people who are better and worse than us. Maybe, just maybe if we can be the best in our own little world than we can feel better about ourselves and our lives. Is that it?
I’ve lived for a long time in the high end culinary and hospitality world where being the best borders on a terribly unhealthy obsession. We have to be the best. Five Stars, Five Diamonds, Best Chef, Best Restaurant, the cover of Food & Wine or Bon Appetit or better yet Conde Nast Traveler. The need to be the best Chef and accomplish so much more hangs over us like a dark cloud threatening to unleash buckets of rancid chicken stock over our head.
But it’s not enough to be the best at work. We carry that unhealthy need and desire with us everywhere we go. We run through life like racehorses with blinders on. While the blinders on the horse is valuable to block its vision and keep it from being spooked, our blinders block the window into our very heart and soul. As we aimlessly race through life from one obsession to the next we’ve become completely blind to the very essence of life itself, to live and love.
What’s the best school for our kids to? What's the best care to drive? What best new restaurant should we dine at? Where’s the best place to live? What’s the best school to send our kids to, oh, I already said that, it must be important to a lot of people. What’s the best car to drive? What’s the best tv to buy? Magazines are published and fully committed to telling the world what’s the best in every category.
As if that’s not enough, the local garden club gives out awards for the best yard, the chamber of commerce recognizes the best business, and someone finds a way to recognize the best holiday decorations. And don’t even get me started on the never ending debate on the best athletes and sports team.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m as competitive as the next person and I love my Chiefs and Jayhawks. But when billions of dollars are dumped into professional sports while so many honest hard working people are struggling just to put a meal on their table while dreaming and waiting for their Vince Papale moment, something is wrong.
Over my years of working in luxury hotels I came to truly appreciate some of the finer things in life, but when having and being the best has completely taken over our lives, something has to give. Maybe that’s one of the positives that can come from this pandemic.
Yes, I used to love eating from fine china, but now I’m completely content travelling and reminiscing with my little yellow plate.
When I went through a divorce in 2003 I started from scratch in my house and home. Divorce was going to be hard enough on my children and to minimize the negative impact I walked away with little to no possessions from our home. I wanted to leave the home as normal as possible. While it was hard financially it was great emotionally and spiritually. In the beginning I borrowed all the kitchen stuff I needed from the hotel I worked at the time and eventually started buying my own stuff.
It was then that I bought my first piece of Fiesta like my grandma used to have. I always loved colorful and fun but that was something that was never allowed in my kitchen of the past. We have our share of Fiesta now and maybe someday I will buy some of the newer colors .
It was at this time in my life that I remembered the old Fiesta in a box in the attic. The stuff my Grandma Bracken used when I was growing up. It was her everyday china and when she died she wanted me to have it. I traveled with me to Texas and then California but never came out of the box.
So, I hauled it out of the attic, cleaned it up and put it in my glass kitchen cabinet for everyone to see. But no one was allowed to use it. After all it was old and valuable, emotionally if not financially. My Grandpa Bracken won this china when he had his Feed Store in Troy, Kansas. In fact the sign from his old store can be found hanging on the wall in the Feed Store Cafe in Troy. My cousin Donna’s restaurant that she’s put her heart and soul into.
My Grandpa Bracken died before I was born so I never got to know him. What I know or at least remember it, he won the Fiesta for meeting his sales goals from one of his suppliers. It was not for being the “best” feed supplier but for just working hard and doing well. Things were different back in that time and place. Grandpa wasn't trying to be the best. He suffered through so much but went to work every day to provide for his family. Everyone did. Life's joy came from family, friends and life itself. After all we are all made for love and companionship and yet we chase happiness and gratitude in so many material ways. Why is it so hard for us to understand that we can only find that true contentment in our relationships. In each other.
After years of that yellow plate and so many others sitting on a shelf behind a glass door, one day I asked myself why? My Grandfather earned this china for working hard. My grandmother used it every day and she wanted me to have them. She was a practical and simple woman who lived a simple life. The way I figured it, I doubt she’d want her plates sitting on a shelf gathering dust and not being used for their intended purpose, to feed people. Ironic isn’t it? Feeding people is what I do every day?
So as I sit here eating my breakfast sandwich I decided not to ask Luke if the sandwich I made him was better than Starbucks. I mean, it was made with Dean Kim’s bread, but I don’t want to be the best. I don’t need that anymore. I just need to enjoy this simple moment with my son, sitting at a table and breaking bread together. One of the simplest and best joys in life.
And that’s what I did. I enjoyed the moment while eating my sandwich and thinking of a simpler time in my life. Not necessarily a better one and certainly not easier but one that sure did have its priorities in order. A time when people went to work not to be the best but to provide for their family. A time when people didn’t shop for the best thing ever but just for what they needed. A time when people decorated their house for Christmas to honor the season, not to win and award. A time when people went out to eat to nourish their body and soul, not to have the finest meal prepared by the world’s best chef.
As I ponder all of this I realize that we will always compete to be the best. It’s in our nature, our DNA. But maybe, just maybe when this pandemic is over what we're competing for will be different. Maybe we can start competing in something that really matters. I mean it’s really cool that you run a really good hotel and you're a really good chef, coach, ball player and such. But as you near the end of your time here on this earth will it really matter if you were the best or not.
I for one love the idea of men competing with themselves at being the best husband, father, son and friend that they can be. Women competing with themselves at being the best wife, mother, daughter and friend that they can be.
How about all of us competing to be the best versions of ourselves. The most loving, caring, compassionate, and giving people that we all can be. In the end that will matter.
For now I think I will continue to enjoy my journeys compliments of my little yellow plate.
Thank you Grandma Bracken & Fiesta. . .