George. George. George.
I said good bye to my friend George this past week. Actually, when I left George I said I will see you later. And I truly meant to see him later. George had other plans as George usually does.
One might ask what my friend George has to do with a Snowflake Chocolates blog post. Let me tell you about my friend George.
What kind of facts can I tell you about George? Not many really. I can tell you a lot about my relationship with him but not a whole lot about the man himself. I have known George probably for about 15 years. I am not even sure of when exactly he entered into our lives. I know in his former life in Connecticut he was a candy man and owned a liquor store. I just know he and his wife Jean would stop in to visit, chat with my Dad about candy making and that was it.
Next thing I know George is spending some hours working with us here in the shop. Primarily out back with my Dad helping to roll creams, transfer cut squares to trays, stirring the kettle and other things. My Dad fondly referred to him as the oldest guy in Vermont. Now imagine two older gentleman candy makers. Neither man could hear very well and spoke softly. That was the scene back in the kitchen. There would be plenty of head nodding and grunting but honestly, I don't think either one of them heard what the other had to say.
Of course there was the interaction George had with the myself and the ladies out in the packing area. George liked to walk by and tug on our apron strings. Now for a man from the past this was just funny. We had to retrain George that in these days you just couldn't walk around pulling at the ladies apron strings! One pull on the wrong ladies apron strings and we would find ourselves on the 11:00 pm news. But that was George. He was particularly fond of our friend Suzanne who is sassy with a great sense of humor. George found much pleasure in sharing all his blonde jokes with her. As always Suzanne would admonish him for his behavior. We spent a lot of time joking with George, trying to retrain his old fashioned, chauvinistic brain. He was a product of his generation of men. Now when I speak of the way George was with all of us, it wasn't with malice it was just what it was. He was a man of his time that was trying to adjust to our teachings with suffering, humor and respect.
I was George's personal chocolate assistant. He taught me a lot about patience. He would call usually with some wild concoction that he came up with for me to put together to send to one of his many friends. George was synonymous with special order. I used to think, "George why in the world can't you just order something that we have in stock?". He would describe what he wanted, I would roll my eyes, we would banter as to whether or not it could be done and in the end I always did it for him. He would tell me not to lose the bill, and I always did. Then there would be two or three phone calls of him admonishing me for not keeping better track of things, and how did I expect to make money for the company that way? I would frustrate that hell out of him. And so this went on between us for years.
We poured a lot of fudge together over the years. Always always I would be scraping the kettle and he would say to me "See all that in there kid? That is your profit. You get every little bit off that kettle and the spatula.". I never scrape a kettle without thinking of George.
Fudge and George. There was that very intense time that he lost his ring in a batch of fudge. We are talking the discovery of the lost ring when we were about 400 boxes into the order. I thought my Dad was going to have a heart attack. George was beside himself. We were all beside ourselves. A phone call to a friend with a medal detector and thank goodness, we found the ring. Oh brother George ... it took a few days to recover from that one.
There came the time when coming to work became too difficult for George. We were worried that he would trip, fall and get hurt and he was worried that he was getting in the way. He used to tell me that it was hell getting old and feeling like there wasn't a place for you in the world. He would go on to lament how the body breaks down, the brain knows it, but the heart doesn't want to accept it. He and Jeannie continued to stop in to visit. Through the door they would arrive with their beloved bickering. George was being gruff and bossy, Jeannie not putting up with any of it and the ladies always taking her side.
George was such a pain in my butt. Always after me about something. He was always on the lookout for new business ideas. He shared articles with me constantly. He was always drumming up new business for us with his friends and what fun I had talking with those friends when they called. It was never a quick call from George. It always seemed as if he had a knack for calling at my busiest times. If I didn't call him back in a timely manner he was back on the phone calling me along with an additional harassment about forgetting him. I always reassured him that there was no possible way I was going to ever forget about him.
He cared deeply for our family and our employees. Always asking about my children, my mother and father and siblings. He did what he could to convince people to buy our candy. He would look for articles in newspapers or magazine and send me a copy to be helpful. He wanted us to succeed.
Two weeks ago I had a conversation with George and it was different. He called to settle a bill. There was no usual banter. He was all business, tying up loose ends I suppose. His voice was weak and I could tell he was tired. As I hung up the phone I looked at my sister and said, "Our George, I don't think he is long for this world."
Thursday morning we received a call that he was not doing well. It really nagged at me. I am learning to listen better to that little voice in my heart. Quickly, "the blonde" Suzanne and I decided to head to the hospital to see him. We really had no idea how sick he was.
We found him, looking a little tired but up to seeing us. There were hugs, kisses, pats on the head and tears. There was some good conversation and laughter. I confessed to him yet again that he was a pain in my butt. His reply was simply, "But wasn't it fun?" He laughed when I told him I brought "the blonde" with me. He told me one last time to fire her. He thanked me for my family being so welcoming to his, and for our friendship over the years. He told me my Dad and Mother were good people and my Dad works too hard. He told me my son was a good kid. He reminded me of how lucky I am to have this crazy family and the chocolate business.
I cried with him. We cried when we left him. It was what he didn't say that was stuck in my head. He had made his peace.
I really thought I would see him again. Perhaps just one more time. He passed away the next day.
I am grateful to have seen him one last time. I am thankful for our friendship and the lessons he taught me while being a "pain in my butt". He was a good man.
I will think of you every time I scrape a kettle.
Farewell my friend. It was a pleasure to have known you.