The Last Time I Didn't See John
It was 1/2 an hour to 2017. The boys and I were basking in the glow of the tree, menorah and tv anxiously waiting for the new year to begin. The boys were snuggled on the sofa, and I was sitting on the love seat, scrolling through social media and wishing friends far away a happy new year.
It was still 2016, but barely, when I saw a post that said John V. had died. I couldn't believe it; John had been in the hospital for kidney stone before Christmas. I think he had even spent his birthday day, something that his many friends had commented on. It had not been easy, but he had gotten out and I had assumed all was well. I recalled that earlier in the week he had return to the hospital, but it didn't seem all that serious. After all, he was posting to social media and looking for a charger for a device. One of his last posts said this: "So as of this past Tuesday I returned to _______ hospital and it hasn't been easy. I have so many issues about being caught up issues."
I could never imagine that he would not be out of the hospital for the new year. Or if not, that he wouldn't be hosting a party to celebrate in his room. Because that's the kind of person John was. If he couldn't make it to the party, he would MAKE a party where he was.
Not that I knew John all that well. We met in 2009 at the happiest place on earth. He was a chef at one of the restaurants that we would be dining at, and as it turned out we shared a good friend. (Who also happened to be a chef.) John took good care of me that evening. The food was delicious, but even better was his infectious smile and attitude of caring. Eating at Disney has almost always been a positive experience for me, but John took it to the next level. How could we not become friends?
My family and I don't travel to Florida all that much, but through the power of the internet John and I kept in touch. Holiday cards were sent and laughter and smiles were shared, even if not face to face. He was often in my thoughts.
When the boys and I went to Disney for spring break of 2012, I was looking forward to seeing John again. He had moved to a different restaurant, but was still in Epcot. We had exchanged messages back and forth and on the last night of our stay we were going to be dining at "his" restaurant. It was a special night, not just because we were going to be seeing John, but because it was the anniversary of our family's "official" day. (That is the day that our son's adoption was made legally official, but as any parent who adopts will tell you the papers mean nothing other than a legality. We were family from the day my son was born and we held him. Nothing could ever change that.)
When we checked in and asked for John, I was surprised and hurt that he wasn't there. This was not through any fault of his own; he didn't make the schedule. But I was still heartbroken. And a little angry too. As I wrote in my journal at the time: “Imagine my displeasure when they told me at check in that Chef John was not there. As we waited (sitting on the curb of the sidewalk), I was fuming. The ONLY reason we had come to the restaurant was because of John."
My journal notes went on: When we were finally called (about 10 minutes or so after our ADR time), I was somewhat relieved to see that we had an upper patio table (John had said that he was going to have a very special seat for us). Well, at least we were going to have a good view for Illuminations.
When I told our server that I had food allergies, she told me she'd bring out Chef Matt. And that's when I got the surprise of my life. When John found out that he WASN"T going to be there, he sent (according to Matt) at least 30 emails outlining what needed to be done for me! According to Matt, I was not ordering off the menu, John had already prepped a special meal for me!).
So, what was it? Sadly, I didn't take photos or many notes at this point, but it was lamb dish that was totally delicious! Beautifully prepared by Matt (following explicit instructions from John). I even got my very own special dessert as well. It was some sort of eggless spice cake like dessert along with delicious berries. So even though John was not around, it was still a very special and very delicious meal!
Our meal took an extra special turn, when a few minutes before Illuminations should have become, one of the waitresses (along with 2 others who were in training) came over and wanted to talk to my son. According to Charlotte, Mickey Mouse was stuck on the monorail and was not going to be able to start the fireworks that evening. He has asked that a very special person help him out and she knew he was very special and was hoping he'd help out. What they did is give him this glowing "wand" (more like a toy light saber to give you an idea of the size and shape) and they asked him to keep moving it slowly in a circle motion and make a very special wish so that the fireworks could start. It was definitely a true Disney moment.
Sometime during Illuminations they took the wand and gave him a (paper) crown. It was just the best way to end of vacation. (Do I need to tell you that I kept welling up with tears?). I know what we saw was the same Illuminations we've always seen (because I've seen it so many times and love it each time I see it), but it was just so much more special on this evening. Best 20 some odd minutes ever!
Even though John was not physically present that evening, he obviously had his hand in every detail. All these years later and I still recall that evening. It is one that I will never forget and I will never be able to thank John completely...although I did try many times.
That was the kind of person John was. He made things special, even if he couldn't be there. His acts of kindness MADE our vacation.
John moved on from Disney. (A good thing considering the commute he was making.) And again, we did keep in touch. A post from him on social media was almost always guaranteed to make me smile. (As well as anyone else who might have read his musings.) He always had a way of making me smile.
2016 is no more. Chef John is no more. A man gone much too soon. But those years that he graced this planet will not be forgotten by those who had the pleasure to have known him. He made memories for us that we will NEVER forget. I know I cannot be the only one who will hold on tight to memories of this man.
Thank you John. For taking care of me. For taking care of my family. For showing your love through your talent of cooking and service. This world is a better place because of you.
Takk, og Gud velsigne deg.