Welcome To Christmas, Welcome To America
I was Working the broiler end of the dinner line at the plush Maxi’s Restaurant. A popular up, up and upper scale hot spot in the Red Lion Hotel located at Jantzen beach on the Columbia River in Portland Oregon. This was a very busy and challenging place to work as a cook, or any other position for that matter. We all worked hard, especially the people in the dish-room.
The kitchen was a grand masterpiece of planning and engineering. In addition to all the latest industrial cookware it had the square footage to match. The main kitchen was centered between Maxi’s hot and cold lines and the coffee shop area with its short order line. The adequate banquet prep and dish up area was located off one end of the setup while the dish room was at the other.
It was the early 80’s and we the crew had just been swamped by the thanksgiving holiday. (Where do all these people come from? Don’t they have homes to have their Thanksgiving holiday in?)
The days were busily slipping by and soon it would be Christmas. You don’t really know Christmas until you’ve worked one at a large hotel.
In the late 70’s and early 80’s the USA was the beneficiaries of several waves of immigrants whose families were suppressed and in real danger from their own governments. Many of these hard working people found employment in the food industry. I was really impressed with them; Men and women who back in their home countries were doctors and held other positions which I considered to be highly skilled. Now they were happy to be scrubbing potatoes and washing dishes.
They quickly earned the respect of me and many of my co-workers. I was always curious about them and their former life in Vietnam or Cambodia. They talked freely of the good things and seemed to be understandably guarded about the horrors they had seen and lived. I respected them for the positive attitudes they displayed. I never once heard a complaint that was common to the hard work and long hours that go hand in hand with the food service industry.
As I had mentioned earlier, Christmas was coming. I was feeling the sprit of giving and love. Prep work for the dinner rush meant many an afternoon shoulder to shoulder at the sink peeling and de-veining large shrimp with the help of a dishwasher/prep cook named Dohn. I really enjoyed this quiet time with my belly up to the stainless steel sink while the faucet trickled water over the thawing blocks of shrimp.
Much of our conversation was about the up coming holiday. I noticed that Dohn was not in the same zone I was about Christmas and so I asked him about his plans for that day.
Now I’m not sure if he knew or even believed what it was all about but he was courteous and gave a real effort to converse with me in spite of his limited English.
One of my many questions for Dohn was, did he have a Christmas tree yet? To which he replied that he did not. He went on to explain that he, his wife and three small children could not afford the $10 price tag for a tree. Ten dollars for a Christmas tree makes me pine for the 1980’s.
So being that I was in the Christmas Spirit and wanting to hug and kiss just about everyone I saw, I offered to provide one for them. It took some persuasion on my part, but Dohn agreed. He gave me the address to his home and a time when I could drop it by. It turned out that his family lived only a few blocks from my home and I kept the appointed time without much effort on my part.
While I was untying the tree from the roof of my car Dohn saw me from the window and came out to greet and help me with the tree. On the way to the front door he invited me in. Curious little hands and faces festooned the door and gave way to his lovely wife’s smile. I was warmly greeted and directed into their home. Things were being said to me I’m sure but I was in a state of amazement at the time so I can’t remember what.
The front room had exactly nothing in it. No couch, no big easy chair, no TV, no coffee table, nothing. I dragged the tree to one corner and leaned it up to the wall. They all urged me into the kitchen where there were some furnishings. A small kitchen table with one chair. Now, you can probably guess that they insisted that I sit in the one chair and be comfortable.
The next few moments were that of gratitude expressed in English and Cambodian. In my shock I was able to ask about his family and about how they came to America. He shared with me some of the many challenges they experienced in the past few years. Meanwhile in my mind I was asking myself a couple of questions. “Why did I bring them a stupid tree? What are they going to do with it; they had no lights, no garlands, no ornaments and defiantly no gifts from Santa or anyone else for that matter. The tree really is no good to them except to chop and burn in the fireplace.
After a pleasant time with Dohns family around the kitchen table I explained that I had to go, and we said our good byes.
That night at home I told my wife about what I had seen and she and I agreed we had to do more than just a tree with no lights. We got together with our friends from church and discovered there were many people who wanted to give to Dohn and his family. So the call went out and soon folks were showing up at our door with so many wonderful gifts and household items. After a couple days I made another appointment to visit with Dohn at his home again.
This time I was not alone. We had three cars and two trucks behind us. I knocked at the door and when it opened a precession of strangers began to enter with armfuls of items he and his family desperately needed.
A couch and a loveseat, an old easy chair, coffee table and a book shelf and TV. For the kitchen a complete dinette set with matching chairs, boxes and boxes of canned goods along with a turkey, a ham and all the fixings. The bedrooms were set with bunk beds and dressers. While the tree… The tree was covered with lights and propped by neatly wrapped gifts, covered in ribbons and fanciful bows.
I can hardly describe the scene without getting more than a little choked up. The children’s faces were all ramped up and their eyes were glazed over in disbelief. Dohn and his wife were conflicted between the blessing of this Christmas gift and their humility.
Few words were spoken while hands were grasped and arms draped around one another.
Many years have passed since the night we shared in that wonderful Christmas. I often wonder about Dohn and his family. I am sure he has been in a position to reach out and help someone in kind.
I do know this for sure. Anytime we reach out to help, and by so doing, lift a fellow human being, we ourselves are elevated.
Welcome to Christmas Dohn, Welcome to America…
This entry was posted on November 20, 2008 at 6:42 pm and is filed under Duke's Cooking Stories with tags advertising, cable, chef, christmas tree, cooking, duke desrochers, entertainment, food network, gifts, ham, marketing, social media, social media tools, television, turkey, Video, viral. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.