“Life is uncertain; eat dessert first,” was one of the standards Gail Cournoyer used to espouse any given workday, and usually a few times of day at that. I knew Gail when we slung coffee together in a green apron in Boston’s Coolidge Corner over ten years ago. She was a delightful sort, especially for being a native New Englander, having endured dozens of harsh winters. Always laughing, always cheery, even during a wicked Nor’easter.
Gail’s presence made my time in Bean Town all the more enjoyable. Her hearty outlook came from a life fully lived, as she was a grandmother likely a few times over, and yet here she was, dutifully showing up in below freezing temperatures before the crack of dawn 5 days a week. Always the same, always on time, always smiling, and always offering her life’s lesson regarding the unknown and priority of sweets. I don’t know what became of Gail, and I don’t know if she ever knew the impression she left on me over those few short months. You see, at the end of my wife’s internship at fair Harvard we returned to New Orleans after eight months in Massachusetts, and when I left, Gail was still Gail, making lattes and making others’ days a little bit better.
A week ago I said goodbye to someone too young at 42 to leave, the uncertainty of life smacking me still when my wife told me of his passing. Brian Fazekas had had a heart attack New Year’s Day, surrounded by family and friends, awaiting of all things a hot chocolate. My former neighbor and contemporary in age, father to one of my children’s friends, and husband to one of my wife’s pals, Brian and I were not too very close, but we were close enough. We’d been known to imbibe together over holidays, gallery openings, or any given night frankly. One such evening over this past year, a group of maybe five of us sat around drinking whiskey or what have you, and no, we didn’t solve the world’s problems that night. Not to say that we didn’t try. Last I saw Brian was at a holiday gathering slash anniversary party slash end-of-the-world party on 12.21.12. I was of course pleased to see him but didn’t offer much more than a hey. Mardi Gras Day 2012 Brian rolled up on a bike at our home all decked out in his EMS gear, taking a break from his duties to see his family, use the bathroom, get something to eat, then head back out to work the holiday. I was looking forward to seeing him again this coming Fat Tuesday as we’re relative homebodys that day and we like hosting, but no. . .
Over the holidays we went to visit my mother and her husband in semi-rural Texas, stopping off along the way at an IHOP in Beaumont where I spent half my life a lifetime ago. As I sat there with my family, my oldest daughter at 10, quickly pointed out on the kid’s menu the smiley faced chocolate chip pancake and asked if she might order it. I used to do the same thing when I was her age with relative success, but I told her no. Because if I order her one, then I’m ordering four, for all four girls, and if I order one and chop it into fours, then no quarter is like the other and each piece is more desirable than the one I give them. In short it’s a no win scenario. But don’t worry, my brood get sugared up with relative frequency, and their life isn’t as monastic as this episode might paint. Homemade chocolate chip pancakes happen a lot under our roof, just sans whipped cream, cherries, and smiley faces. Gail Cournoyer’s dessert credo sticks with me, though its application remains exercised intermittently. Throwing caution to the wind is one thing and flexing temperance remains another. Mostly we should just learn to enjoy each other with the time we are granted, dessert and all. Come Mardi Gras Day 2013, I foresee another chocolatey, pancake-type morning at our home, and me, I’ll take mine with some whiskey to toast Mr. Brian. It won’t be the same without him.
Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and Du Mois Gallery on Freret Street and a married father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at UptownMessenger.com, he also shares his family’s adventures sometimes via pedicab or bicycle on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.