There was an oven involved, and a constitution of consideration.
Dave Ridenour, my fellow Mutchler/Meissner clan outlaw, married to Max’s sister Marge, was hospitality animated in flesh. Computer engineer and manager by aptitude and trade, as well as a skilled chef motivated by a personal passion for food and a love for feeding and caring for others, Dave liked to casually quiz you about your favorite foods, favorite meals, favorite drinks. The next time you would visit his home or he would visit yours, he would prepare and serve you these personally tailored gastronomical delights. A perfect version. Hours of research, obvious test runs, and his intense desire to get it right just for you, deliciously drenching each bite. In August of 2010, the last time we were able to visit both Dave and Marge together in Wisconsin, Dave thrilled my son by making platters full of ribs with various rubs and sauces, just for him. My son’s favorite food. Dave stood by the grill with Sawyer, slipping into his food whisperer persona, and shared tips with Saw about how to make the most tender, most delicious ribs yourself. He explained how you can bring the food magic home. Conjure it yourself whenever you desire.
Years earlier, after a surgery which required my jaw to be sawed in half and pieced back together, Dave and Marge came to visit our family in Baltimore. My recovery was not going smoothly. The surgery had left behind a sharp residue of chronic pain that medicine and time was not easing. The death of my father a few days after the surgery left me with a shattered heart and a stomach full of broken glass. The rapid weight loss from a mouth banded shut for six weeks and a grief that was repulsed by the thought of nourishment turned me into a sad and tearful puddle of a person. By the time Dave and Marge arrived my bands had been removed, but I still could not open my mouth or chew. I’d been surviving on small quantities of pureed soup and Ensure. Exhausted, shaky, and defeated due to a lack of adequate calorie intake and the dual daggers of grief and pain piercing me each moment, I’m certain I was not the most gracious of hosts. As starved as my body was, I felt too overwhelmed and weak to even try and prepare foods that might induce me to attempt to eat any type of solid food again, let alone cook or bake for guests.
Dave and Marge, always loving, generous, helpful and gracious, swept love and energy into the house. Dave asked me what I missed eating the most. Cookies. I missed the buttery goodness and crystallized sugary sweetness of cookies. Dave was a gifted amateur chef, not a pastry chef. If I would have said lamb, or chicken tikki masala, or cobb salad, Dave would have undoubtedly somehow prepared an irresistible homemade version that I would have been able to slip between my clenched jaws, savor, and swallow. Pastry and cookies were not part of Dave’s extensive chefy repertoire, but that didn’t detour him. A problem solver by nature, Dave purchased several tubes of pre-made cookie dough, warmed up the oven, and baked the cookies until they were a hot, gooey, melty mess that could be picked apart into tiny pieces, slipped through my lips, and dissolved on my tongue. I wept as the first morsel woke my slumbering taste buds and nudged my appetite. Dave baked each cookie individually to order for me so they would be warm and pliable. Yes, of course, it would be Dave who would reintroduce me to solid food. My outlaw. The family foodie extraordinaire. Always the loving host, even when the guest.
This was Dave.
A year ago today, we lost the corporal part of Dave, and we’ll never stop grieving that loss and missing him.
This other part of Dave — this thoughtful, kind, smart, loving part who grilled us ribs, baked us gooey cookies to order, nestled Sierra in his arms and gently tickled her to giggles when she was so battered by chemo that smiles were even an effort — we can never lose.
We’ll always love you, Dave.