After my grandparents retired from grocery store business, they kept themselves busy with many things. They had a big garden, my grandpa was a beekeeper, my grandma cooked and baked. It always smelled good when we came to her kitchen. Their back room which was kept nice a cool always had a plate of cookies that we snuck ourselves into and try to take them without her noticing. Of course, she always did, no matter how carefully we tried to take them from behind or the bottom of the pile. My grandpa had diabetes and he was constantly scolded for sneaking into the room himself. And that little bugger always blamed it on us kids! I loved my grandpa. We were pals. When I was little, he would put me on the back of his moped and we’d go pick blueberries in the woods. I would always help him tend to the bees and now that I write this, the memories present themselves in a form of the smell of his beehouse. I think of him whenever I smell freshly ground coffee. He roasted his own coffee in his grocery store. My grandparents also made pasta by hand. Not only for themselves and family but for a long line of customers. I remember them in the kitchen working as a team and whenever my brother and I were there, we’d help to knead,  roll and cut the dough. Especially after my grandpa suffered brain stroke, making pasta served as a therapy for him. It kept him occupied and it served as physical therapy for his eye-hand coordination and strengthening of his arms. We'd sit at the kitchen table, my job was to place strips of pasta into his roller while he turned the pasta machine. We'd laugh and sing and I'd also watch him suddenly burst into tears and then we'd both cry. When he was in the hospital after his stroke, we went to visit him to say goodbye.  My grandma didn't want him to die in the hospital so she brought him home and his recovery was miraculous. Home sweet home! In the hospital he told me he wanted to die. He sqeezed my hand and said goodby.


Recently I  started making pasta. Many memories from my childhood surfaced. Most of them were connected to the family gatherings around the table for a good home prepared meal.  Food and preparation of it is so much more than feeding hungry mouths. Food connects people. Food encourages conversations. Sometimes they are disagreements and if you are a family like mine, it can get pretty loud. People who don't understand our language think we are constantly fighting. No, we are simply debating and sometimes we don't agree. Food nourishes the soul as much as our bodies. Little wine to go along with it, doesn't hurt. 

I have to admit to the fantasies I've had on several occasions when I was making pasta: I am rolling the dough, I am covered in flour, there is a knock on the door. I walk to the door with hands sticky with dough, and who else but Anthony Bourdain himself, lost in our neighborhood is asking for directions. Of course, I invite him in and we chat as I am finishing up in the kitchen. Of course, he's impressed and yes, he joins us for a family dinner. We eat just simple fresh made pasta and home-baked bread, drink wine (plenty of it) and laugh and talk way past midnight. And now he's gone and my fantasy will never come true just like I'll probably never win a lottery. 

When high profile people like Anthony end their life there are plenty of media people talking about it. And that's good. We have to have more open conversations about depression and how debilitating it can be. It obviously doesn't matter how wealthy, how successful, how young or how old. Depression is serious and often we don't talk about an elephant in the room. If we don't bring it up, it doesn't exist. Then a terrible thing happens and there is no way to turn back the time to bring a person we love back. When we are in a destructive state of mind, we don't think of the people who will be left behind and devastated by our decision to take our life. Not even our kids. Not even our spouse. Not even our parents. We just simply can not see a way to go on. I know. I've been there myself. No run or bike ride would help me. I could just get the kids to school in the morning and then I would come back home and lay on the couch and cry. It was my dog, my young golden retriever Bodie, that would come and put his head in my lap and just stay there, looking at me with so much love and patience. He saved my life. I also started on antidepressants and that lifted the fog off my brain and I was able to see the light. At least I was able to go on a bike ride and not cry the whole time. Somehow I got through and of course, I am grateful that I did. I am grateful I was able to be around to raise my kids, but there were some seriously dark times and often when kids were at their dad's house, I didn't think I wanted to go on. And the worst of it- no one knew! I didn't share with anyone how serious my depression was. I was the tough one. The one who takes care of everyone around me. The one other people look up to. People like me don't show their weakness. We want to deal with our own problems. We don't want to burden our friends. 

So, let's keep the conversation going. Depression is not a weakness. If you are going through dark times, reach out. If you have a friend, a spouse, a child who is dealing with it, reach in. Get help, get them help. Life will be beautiful again. And for god's sake- get yourself a golden retriever or any other kind of a dog. They will be your rock!

Alenka Vrecek