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The Cook Who Came to Live With Us

My best friend, Herman, and me.

Here's a little story for you.

When I was a little girl my mom married a man who brought with him "his cook." That's right. His cook.

Now, my stepfather had no money, not much of a career, not even a suitcase. What he did have, because of the wife and children he left behind, was a cook. And his cook came to live with us.

We had no money, my mom was recovering from cancer, and I think our kitchen had about three condiments and a Ding Dong. But that was all about to change.

And so was I. Forever.

Herman was 6 feet tall, handsome, African American and somewhere in his early 40s.

I was 5, freckled, pale as a ghost, precocious and distrustful of everyone and everything.

I had no idea that day when Herman moved in with us that I was about to meet the person who would end up being the most important, influential, inspirational friend of my life.

Herman saw me.

He saw me when it felt like no else did. He taught me to cook and to enjoy old movies. Humphrey Bogart, Grace Kelly, Bette Davis.

He always had a softcover book in his hand, a cigarette in his lips and jazz playing on the radio.

He played piano, painted, even sewed outfits for my dolls and stuffed animals.

I would sit in the kitchen with him and he talked to me like I was an equal. And when I fought with my mom when she drank, and raged at my stepfather when he behaved inappropriately ... there was Herman. Looking at me. Understanding me. And always telling me, "You're something special."

He eventually moved out to cook for people who paid him. But on his days off, he'd come home to us to sleep. We were his family. 

And we were always so broke that when he would come home to us he would bring trays of food that he'd made at his jobs.

Sometimes he would call my stepfather from a job and say, "Mrs. G had a dinner party last night but she and her friends eat like birds. There is a ton left over. Come and get it."

I'd hop in the car with my stepfather as we drove to the Beverly Hills mansion, up to the servants' quarters and secretly retrieve the bags of food from Herman.

He died when I was 25, after battling diabetes and other health issues.

The day before he died he called me on the phone to make plans to take me to lunch at one of his favorite diners in Crenshaw.

I couldn't wait to see him. Before we hung up we told each other how much we loved each other. Deeply loved each other. And, for some reason, I felt the need in that moment to thank him for being my best friend.

"OK, my dear, see you tomorrow. See you tomorrow," he said.

He died in his sleep that night and was found the next morning.

I guess I bring this up because I miss him. I miss his raspy, expressive voice. His long, brown fingers that made everything he did look like he was performing a magic trick. I miss his white straw hats and hearty laugh.

I talk about him to my daughter a lot. We have paintings that he did on my walls, and a photograph of him sits in my kitchen at all times. I wish my daughter had known him. They would've loved each other.

I know if he were alive he would be proud of me.

The thing is ... I'm so very proud of him. Who he was. How he lived. So, I guess in this moment I wanted to share him with you. In telling you about him, somehow I guess I feel he still lives.

Ken Sheetz October 03, 2011 at 07:45 PM
Lovely. Write this into a movie script for Morgan Freeman.
Susan McMartin October 03, 2011 at 10:08 PM
thanks, lucinda!
Susan McMartin October 03, 2011 at 10:09 PM
i actually have a screenplay written! samuel jackson is loosely attached. hope to see it on the screen one day. but, morgan freeman always reminded me of herman! thanks, ken!
justin forbes October 03, 2011 at 11:42 PM
I always knew you were an old soul...and old souls attract one another. Here's to Herman. and to you. Thanks for introducing us to Herman. Your damn right, he's proud of you!
Susan McMartin October 03, 2011 at 11:47 PM
thanks, justin. herman LOVED you.

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