Sunday, November 8, 2015

Some Honest Work

My "office" a few Monday afternoons ago.  Photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

Three Mondays ago was a sad day.  I attended a funeral for a friend who passed away far too soon.  I should note from the offset that I have permission from her beloved companion to post these details.  Thank you Mike for allowing me to share this on my blog. 

The friend in question, Barbie Dietsch, passed on far too soon at 50.  Despite an illness that attacked her on multiple fronts, she fought it all 12 rounds.  Her passing was tragic, unfair and heartbreaking.  

Notwithstanding the amazing display of compassion and professionalism shown by the funeral home, it was still a sad, sad endeavor.  The Priest who proceeded over the funeral offered in a most sincere way his unshakable belief in the hereafter.  I have nothing but my own faith to offer in support of his position.  (And for the record, I am convinced Barbie and my Mom have been catching up on matters.)

There is an old Irish saying:  "Don't bring death home."  What that means is, at least to me, is that after the funeral is concluded, you huddle with those you know and love before heading to your home.  This traditionally is a luncheon.  Sometimes, this is at the church basement.  In this case, it was at my Dad's bar.

If you're a regular reader of this blog (and thank you if you are) you may recall that my Dad owns a neighborhood bar.  Barbie was my Dad's head bartender and we were honored that the family elected to have the post-funeral lunch at his bar.

When I arrived, the place was full, with more folks on the way.  My plan was to stop by, fix a plate, and head back to the office.  Within about a nanosecond of looking around, I realized my plans were about to change.

I saw my Dad behind the bar, doing what he does everyday, taking orders, serving drinks.  Yet this was critical mass.  There were simply too many people for him to handle by himself.

And with that, I began an afternoon of "honest work" a bar tender.

I am leery to write about this as I do not want to give the impression that I came riding in on a white horse to save the day.  Then again, the sheer fact that I write a blog is, in and of itself, an exercise in vanity.  Add into the mix the fact I'm a lawyer and an only child and just about anything I write about that deals with me could be viewed (likely accurately) as a, "look-at-how-great-I am" post.

I assure you, that is not the case, especially with this post.  It is one of the leading reasons why I have not published a post in three weeks.  I have been working on this one and I want to get this one right.  I recently came to the conclusion that I doubt I can ever truly get this "right," or to the level I'd like.  All I can hope for is to write something I can say is sincere and then publish it.  So here goes, back to the story.

I ended up getting behind the bar and immediately started taking orders.  My Dad's place is your typical neighborhood bar, a "beer and a shot" type place.  We do not have an...elaborate wine list.  Another thing about my Dad's place is that all the glasses are plastic.  My Dad started this years ago when he put in the volleyball court.  While this may not be the environmentally friendly thing to do, it made my life easier as I did not have glasses to wash.

I had not tended bar for a while.  I realized immediately that I was rusty.  From pouring drinks, running the cash register, making change, it took me more than a moment to get it all right.  The patrons were understanding and even took gentle humor in me attempting to do this job.

The thing about tending bar is that you perform a series of tasks.  Especially in a place like my Dad's, the tasks are not extensive.  Performing these tasks when things are slow is no big deal.  Yet for me, it was a huge challenge when there were more people to wait on and trying to get past my mental block of adding up $2.75 multiple times.

Then I found myself getting into a groove.  I could serve faster, add faster, make change faster and even had time to re-stock a couple of the coolers.  It felt good to know I was doing a good job and also helping out my Dad.

Speaking of, he's a fiercely independent man.  He's not one to ask for help and it took this situation for him to realize that he could not handle it all himself.  I recently finished listening to Brene Brown's book, Rising Strong.  She's PhD who is a GREAT writer and is incredibly down to earth, honest, and writes with an authenticity that causes you to want to listen to more.  She discusses, among other things, the need every human has to rely on others.  She stresses that asking for help, for assistance, is often incorrectly viewed on our society as a sign of weakness.  Dr. Brown argues that asking for help when one needs it is a sign of maturity, of strength.

Sometimes one can ask for help without saying a word.  Sometimes one can simply accept help from another.  My Dad did that when he didn't protest when I headed behind the bar.  I sure accepted a LOT of his help in reminding me, re-training me and re-setting the cash register.  

My Dad (and boss from that Monday afternoon) and I.  Photo by J. Berta

Bar tending is not a leisurely activity, if one does it right.  You don't just "serve drinks."  You serve your customers by providing them beverages, served correctly, quickly and courteously.  At the "black belt" level of bar tending, there are those who make masterful, complex cocktails in a graceful, almost effortless way.  (I will never be one of those.)  I suppose for any bar tender who plays his or her craft, the pursuit can be summed up in two words:  Honest work.

Towards the end of my "shift," a toast was made to Barbie.  Through tears and laughs, she was remembered.  She was beloved by many and will be terribly missed.  As I poured drinks and cracked open cans of Pepsi and Bud Light, I thought of her. I thought of the many times she had done what I was doing and how good she was at it.  Now here were her family and friends, honoring her, missing her, mourning her in their own ways.

As I look back on that afternoon, I still feel the heavy sadness of Barbie's passing.  I was glad I could be there for both her funeral and her luncheon.  I like to think that in some small, yet sincere way, I was honoring my friend and the honest work she engaged in at my Dad's by doing a bit of the same honest work that afternoon.

This blog post is dedicated to Barbara "Barbie" Dietsch, mother, grandmother, sibling, beloved companion, friend to far too many to count and one of the best bartenders I ever had the privilege to know.  R.I.P. my friend.

The photo of my friend Barbie posted in a place of honor at my Dad's bar, posted with permission of her beloved companion and best friend, Mike.  Photo credit to the Dietsch family.
Be well my friends,

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