family

The $61 steak…

Last night, while we were enjoying wine with our neighbors, Bill reminded me of a funny experience we had with my Uncle Brownlee. The year was 2010 and we were living in Georgia, not too far from the Atlanta area. On Bill’s birthday, in July, we visited Craft Atlanta, which has now closed. Craft is a chain of expensive restaurants started by the great chef, Tom Colicchio. They are usually in major cities. I’ve only been to the defunct location in Atlanta and its more casual sister, Craftbar, which is also closed.

In 2010, we were still fairly broke. We had just moved back to the United States from Germany, and Bill was still paying child support for his youngest daughter. A visit to a restaurant like Craft was a real treat. We usually only went to nice restaurants for my birthday, but that year, I told Bill I wanted us to go out on his birthday for a change. So we did, and he chose Craft Atlanta for our celebration.

I’m glad we had the chance to try this restaurant before it closed!

I remember I had duck for dinner, and it came with family style sides of creamy mashed Yukon Gold potatoes and roasted asparagus. Bill hesitated when he saw what he really wanted… a delectable rib eye steak that had been dry aged for 28 days. The price was $61, which was more than he’d ever spent on any entree at a restaurant.

Although the price gave him pause, I encouraged him to order it anyway. He did, and I noticed our waiter looked very happy. I’m sure it mostly had to do with his getting a bigger tip, but I also had a feeling he knew that steak would put a huge smile on Bill’s face. Sure enough, it did. It was probably the most delicious steak either of us had ever had. And, better yet, we had plenty of leftovers!

I just did a search to see if I posted about that meal on Facebook. I found this thread, which is not as exciting as it could have been.

I know I also took some pictures, including the one featured at the top of the posts. These were the days before I wrote restaurant reviews, except for the odd one on Epinions.com, which did not allow pictures.

Anyway, in November of that year, we went to Virginia for Thanksgiving. We were talking about Bill’s special birthday meal with some of my cousins. Uncle Brownlee happened to be sitting in the kitchen, passively listening to me describe Bill’s dinner while he held up the newspaper to read. When I mentioned how much the steak was, he dropped the paper and gave me the funniest, most profound WTF look ever… His mouth dropped open. His brow furrowed and eyes narrowed. It was almost like I said the f-word in front of my Granny or something. He was shocked. I wish I’d taken a picture of his face at that moment. It was classic. Brownlee is a very “salt of the Earth” type of guy. He’d never spend that much on a steak, no matter how good it is.

Bill tried to explain why the steak was so expensive, but Brownlee wouldn’t hear it and thought it was ludicrous that we’d spend so much on a piece of dry aged meat. He’s always been practical and frugal with money. He’d probably rather spend his money on a Hammond organ or building supplies for his next project. I used to love watching him work on his construction projects. I remember he’d find cast off supplies like old doors, cables, or odd pieces of wood and he’d turn them into something beautiful and functional, as if by magic. He also taught himself to play the organ by ear and was good enough to play in bands for years. I used to sing with him accompanying me at the Natural Bridge Hotel. His old friend, Donnie, who played saxophone and sang, would join us. Donnie died on Christmas a few years ago. I was really sad to hear about his death, too… also very sudden.

I haven’t heard any more news since yesterday. I talked to my mom last night and filled her in on what I knew about this situation. She doesn’t use computers and refuses to have anything to do with the Internet, so she wasn’t aware that Brownlee had had a setback. She did say that when Brownlee saw my dad in his final days, he’d made it very clear that he didn’t want his life to end that way and was not interested in life supportive measures that wouldn’t lead to recovery. I really can’t blame him. It’s highly unlikely that Brownlee could still keep doing all that he’s ever loved doing, even if they did everything they could to keep him going. I suspect that being an invalid would be more than Brownlee could bear.

It was heartbreaking for me to see my dad like that, tethered to many machines and hearing alarms blare with even the tiniest movement. All of that intervention was ultimately for naught, and cost a mint. Dad had managed to survive health crises before. He’d even had a feeding tube for awhile and although the doctors bluntly told my mom he’d never improve, he did improve for awhile. At least physically.

But when my dad had his gallbladder operation and couldn’t recover from the anesthesia, it was clear that his body had finally had enough. My mom asked the medical staff to disconnect everything and let my dad go. He didn’t want to go. He made it plain that he didn’t want to die by trying his hardest to keep breathing. Mom had to tell him to let go, which he finally did. He passed away peacefully, with an amazed smile on his face.

I love this house. Brownlee has done a wonderful job making it what it is. He did most of the masonry and built the railings on the steps. That big tree in the front yard was planted when my Aunt Jeanne died in 1995.

I think it’s going to be very hard for my family when we lose Brownlee. He lives in the family homestead– the house my father grew up in and the cornerstone of my memories of my whole family. I don’t know if his wife will be willing or able to maintain it. Her son– my cousin– is a professional musician in Nashville. Her daughter lives in Roanoke and has her own career. My aunt has her own health issues to worry about. But it really is a stunning, magical place. I love visiting there. It’s been too long since my last visit.

The other side of the property. There are two creeks that intersect. Up the hill is the barn, where we have parties.
A rare snowy day in November.
The road that runs in front of the house is named after my grandfather.
Wish I could move in there myself. I love the sound of the creek when I’m going to sleep. It’s hard to believe that my grandparents rented part of that house for a time. I think someone from our family has been there since 1935.

Anyway… I meant for this to be more of a lighthearted post than it’s turned out to be. I guess I really miss home. I continue to pray for peace and comfort for my loved ones.

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