When I was a little boy, my grandfather would make me sandwiches. I would sit at the table and watch him prepare them with ritualistic reverence that at the time I thought was unique to him alone. He used Pepperidge Farms white bread and he carefully cut off the crusts with a huge knife that was stained black with age. The crusts were set aside, to be fed to the ducks at a local pond later. Cains mayonnaise was spread on and scraped off, the excess returned to the jar. I don’t remember him using mustard. A floppy leaf of iceberg lettuce, a thin piece of ham from the deli, and cheese, from a time before cheese was extruded from cellophane. The sandwich was cut into triangles and served with Lay’s potato chips and iced tea that he made in a big pitcher filled with lemon and orange slices and brewed by the sun while sitting on the railing of the front porch.
This story came up recently as I sat in the breakfast room drinking my first cup of coffee. It wasn’t 6 a.m., yet I was joined by a recently retired gentleman traveling with his children and grandchildren. He was a dedicated coffee drinker, polishing off several mugs long before breakfast began at 8. He tasted his first cup like a sommelier, aerating the coffee with a discreet sip, humming his satisfaction. We both agreed that the first cup of coffee in the quiet of the early morning was a simple pleasure in life that should not be overlooked. That’s when I told him the story of my grandfather and his sandwiches. He nodded solemnly and sipped, perhaps thinking of his own sandwiches.
Sandwiches have been on my mind. My oldest son and I traveled down to the flatlands to help my mom move into her new apartment. It was a long drive, and since neither of us are chatty, we simply enjoyed the ride and the music. I took the opportunity to foist my entire collection of Warren Zevon on him, sharing the wry and sardonic master of stories and unexpected chord progressions with a college student.
Zevon’s demise from mesothelioma was well documented, from his appearances on David Letterman’s show, to a VH1 documentary, to his final album, studded with guests like Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne. But Zevon remained resolute to the end, and when Letterman asked him if he’d learned anything about life as a result of his sickness, Zevon said, “How much you’re supposed to enjoy every sandwich.”
Ever since I heard Zevon say that, I’ve thought about my grandfather, and that first cup of coffee, and the forgotten art of feeding ducks crusts of bread. I lost one of those little things this week when my old friend, Damon Kashar, died unexpectedly. He wasn’t little to look at—a big man, with a big personality—but we came of age together, mostly because we shared lots of little things. We shared lots of sandwiches.
We spent lots of time adorning the paper covers of our school books with the logos of our favorite bands. Mine were The Doors, The Beatles, and Bruce Springsteen. Damon’s were Human Sexual Response, the Jim Carroll Band, and Soft Cell. He routinely mocked my mainstream tendencies, and I have him to thank for becoming a musical adventurer. Our adventures weren’t confined to music, however. Once we skipped school and drove up to Notre Dame Academy in Hingham, where we joined by a few like-minded schoolgirls in plaid skirts. We spent the day in Boston eating food from street vendors. The whole thing was Damon’s idea; it was one of his sandwiches.
Sitting here in the middle of life I realize I might not be in the middle anymore. I make sandwiches for my sons, when they’re home, and my dad, when he visits. I’m glad for the sandwiches I’ve been able to enjoy—the sandwiches of my grandfather, the ones guests share with me here at the inn, the sandwiches Damon made for me—and I’m sad that I’ve missed out on some. But I’m not going to wait around for the right moment to have one. I’m going to take Warren Zevon’s advice: I’m going to enjoy every sandwich, and I’m going to keep you in my heart for a while.