My tenure there didn't last long – several issues had been building, including health and family. I would still pop in for the occasional shift when Fred needed me. At least until it caught fire a few years back, and Fred and Maggie moved back downtown.
Of more import, Fred operates a catering business called “My Personal Chef” and I still work with him there when called. Both the restaurant and the catering business attracted one-timers, but over the years we had the usual assemblage of miscreants and ne'er-do-wells common to the culinary industry. Perhaps not up to Anthony Bourdain standards, but colorful nonetheless.
Throughout most of my time with Fred, the one constant was Elly. The picture doesn't do her justice. She was a little slip of a thing – but very, very cute and totally vivacious (yeah, I am old enough to have been her father, but I am not dead yet!). She had a quick wit and an amazing sense of humor. She was smart, creative, funny and kind. If you pissed her off, she could curse in ways that would make a sailor blush. She could bring order out of chaos. You did not cross her.
In short, she was someone you wanted to be watching your six. She could negotiate between the front of the house and the back; run interference with Fred when he was getting on our nerves; or satisfy a guest in a way that made them think they were right. The best compliment I can pay her is that Elly never stopped until the job was done. That meant that at the end of a long catering gig, Elly and I were often side-by-side, doing dishes and putting stuff away while others were unwinding or seeking pay.
Were we friends? I would say so, and I think she would too. Not BFF's, but friends nonetheless – the kind born in the crucible of the food world. Every time we got together began with a hug and an inquiry about my family (I think she had a special bond with my eldest – also an “Ellie”). There was also always a hug and a peck on the cheek at the end of the evening.
I never had the opportunity, but I am sure I could have trusted her with anything. The conversations we had while doing the dishes tended to have a quite a bit of depth to them. We would speak of life and boyfriends and marriage and kids. We especially spoke of the law. Elly desperately wanted to be a lawyer, and she would have been a good one. I desperately tried to talk her out of it. There aren't many catering crews where the devolution of the practice of law over the past 40 years was a topic of conversation. But, Elly had her mind set on it, and a year and a half ago she started Law School in Jacksonville, FL.
I wish I had been more persuasive.
On Thursday, February 12, 2009, Elly was coming home to visit her siblings, her boyfriend, and to be her 4 year old nephew's Valentine at school. She boarded Continental Flight 3407 from Newark to Buffalo. It probably flew right over our house. At 10:19:34 PM, EST, the plane lost control. 26 seconds later it crashed to the earth, five miles short of the airport. Elly and 49 others lost their lives. Ellyce Marie Kausner was barely 24 years old.
If that weren't bad enough, Elly and the others died a mere ¾ of a mile from Elly's house, and about 200 yards from the building that once housed Fredi. Ironic, isn't it? I am not a big fan of irony.
So, when Fred called Sunday and said that Elly's Dad had asked him to cater her Memorial Service and that he was trying to assemble all of the old crew he could find, I of course said yes. On Monday, I joined Fred and Paulie and Lima and Jen and Lisa and Jeremy - 5 cooks, 1 server and a utility outfielder – to prep food. Some of us hadn't been together in years. It was a bit somber at first, as we concentrated on our tasks, but ultimately Fred started popping Champagne corks, and we started swapping Elly stories. (The hands down winner was Elly and the Scientologists!)
Tuesday morning (sans Paulie) we donned our finest chefwear and assembled again at her Church. This time we weren't going to cater with Elly, but for her. I am pretty sure she'd be happy with the result. It was the least we could do to remember one of our own.
So, if your a prayerful person, remember Elly and the other 49 souls lost last Thursday. If you are more like me, hoist a glass in their memory. Though it may have violated some Church rule, we did so Tuesday. Elly would have joined right in!
Here's looking at you, kid!!!!!