“The shortest distance between truth and a human being is a story”
–Anthony de Mello
The first time I met Kim Ricketts, she opened her arms wide, shouted Hello! in a squeaky rasp, and gave me an enormous hug.
I nearly cried.
It was the fall of 2007, a few weeks before my first book would be published. Everything was possibilities and anxieties, excitement and fears about whether or not I could write a sentence anyone could like. Who was I to think I could write a book? Standing near to my friend Matthew, since I didn’t know anyone else at Kat Flinn’s book party, I could feel myself withering into my sixteen-year-old self. All that doubt.
And then there was Kim. For the past year I had been hearing about Kim Ricketts and the splendid events she threw in honor of cookbook authors and interesting thinkers in restaurants and event spaces across Seattle. When Thomas Keller or Mario Batali or Amanda Hesser came to Seattle to promote a book, they worked with Kim. The imagining of her had been a dream for me. Someday, maybe, I’ll be part of a Kim Ricketts event. I had never met her. Until that moment.
She threw open her arms wide and shouted my name. Kim had the most distinctive voice of anyone I’ve ever met: raspy as though she had smoked a thousand cigarettes since Thursday (she didn’t smoke), excited with life, and with a little breathy squeak when she started talking fast. When she shouted my name, she grabbed my attention. When she introduced herself, I did a double take. And then she gave me that hug. “I love your blog, I love your food. I’m gluten-free too. And your book is going to be a HUGE success.”
That moment is when I relaxed, when I knew I’d be okay: this life-long dream of mine to be a writer? I was going to be fine.
And Kim Ricketts became my friend.
There are a thousand friends of Kim Ricketts, if not more. This woman, this force of nature, she gathered people around her like friends around a bonfire. She was light and warmth and a little crackle, something unexpected. Kim loved. She loved books with a fervent passion like no one else — always she was surrounded by piles of books to read, bookmarks in the ones she had started, dog-eared pages in the ones she handed over to friends saying, “Read. You’re not going to believe this one.” One of her greatest missions in life was to persuade people to buy books: cookbooks, collections of poetry, sharp-tongued works of fiction that made your head spin with their innovations. You can read about her professional career here, if you want to know more.
However, Kim loved far more than her work.
Kim loved people. She loved connecting them, making them feel good in the middle of a room, picking them up for a ride to work when their cars weren’t working or bringing by a jar of homemade jam when you were feeling down. When I had a surgery last year, to look at the atypical cells a biopsy found, Kim raced to the hospital to bring armfuls of books for Lu and magazines for Danny. She knew waiting rooms. She was the busiest person I have ever met, always behind on emails and working until 12:30 in the morning, but she still made time for her people. And there were more people every day. If you met Kim, and shared one of those big-hearted, too-loud laughs with her, you were her friend. Done.
Kim piled people into her Jeep, all the windows open, the seats filled with friends, pies, fruit ready to be made into jams. Music playing, she drove fast (and we loved when that drive was to our house for a spontaneous picnic or a canning party) and talked. Conversations with Kim were like bullet-train rides, but ones where the train swayed from side to side on the track, diverting to another path for awhile, feeling lost, then coming into the station. She was blunt — this woman held nothing in when she needed to say it — and her comments weren’t always sweetness and light. Thank god. I remember one conversation with her a couple of months ago after an event at a Seattle restaurant that had gone wrong due to the huge ego of the hosting chef. Her vituperation for his stupid posturing was pretty intense, but it all sounded right. Also, it was hilarious. Kim cracked us up when she went on benders of conversations. We just stood to the side, listening, amazed.
Kim loved food. After all, her events were centered around food. But she was nothing like a food snob. Instead, she liked the gathering, the feast, the conversation. She was just jazzed to be around smart, passionate people coming up with ideas while eating. I’m pretty sure that Kim was happiest in the world when she was in the kitchen, apron on, making a roast chicken or a salad from lettuces she had grown in her garden, cooking dinner for her family.
Kim loved her family. She had an incredible career, doing important work, connected to everyone in the food world. But, as she told me, so many times, her favorite job of all, far beyond any other, was being a mama. She loved her darling children ferociously. Her three children are no longer children — all in their 20s now, incredible people all. But she never stopped loving them ferociously or caring for them in every action. She was, above all, a mama bear. After Lu was born, Kim was my mentor in parenting. She helped save my sanity when Lu didn’t sleep for more than an hour at a time, months after her surgery, by telling me about the sleepless antics of her son. “He would start out reading in his bed and then, 20 minutes later come into my room, peel my eyes open and SO EXCITED–wants to show me everything he was reading about. How could you be mad? just so.…tired.” She gave me suggestions, listened intently, and offered me reminders that this would all change, in the end. Fierce, alive, funny — she was real to every part of it, reveling.
When Lu had her surgery, and we were drooped with dread, Kim organized friends to bring us food for every meal. When she came, she regaled us with stories in the ICU while Lu slept. (She told us that one of the world’s best chefs, whose name shall remain unspoken here, liked nothing better in Seattle than to go for a late-night burger at Dick’s.) She brought us enough food for a week and a carton of blood orange juice. That little touch — that was Kim. Not just orange juice, but the carton of blood orange juice too expensive to buy on a regular basis. She wanted nothing more than to give us comfort, something to wake us up.
After we were home from the hospital, Lu healing, I sent an email to Kim first, to let her know that all was well. She wrote me: “Okay, I can sleep now. seriously. what is it about little ones that hurt that keeps me up, thinking, praying, hoping? but she is going to be fine–I always “knew” it but still, I get to see her and then it will all be fine.”
Kim loved Lu. She lavished her with books, including the entire series of the Bunny Planet books by Rosemary Wells, which were dear to her. (First Tomato continues to be one of my favorite books of all time.) Kim brought Lu jack in the boxes, cooed over her darling giggles, and wanted to hear the details of her growing up on email. She wrote to me, after I told her that Lu just never stops moving: “She is such a Busy Curious Courageous Little Bee–but those are the people that move our world forward.”
I am heartbroken that Lucy will never remember Kim.
Kim died on Monday. She was only 53.
Damn it. Damn it. Damn it.
I haven’t seen her in months, but not for lack of trying. Kim was too sick to see many people besides her family. A few weeks ago, we were by her home, and I sent her a quick note, asking if we could stop by. She had been in and out of the hospital for months. If she was there, I wanted to give her a hug. Later, she sent me this note:
“oh dear–I was up resting… when you sent this!
but soon my dear ones soon
I never did get to see her after that.
Kim suffered for the past year with a rare blood cancer and something called primary amyloidosis. I don’t understand it. I don’t understand any of this. I just know that if she was suffering, I’m happy she’s out of that suffering now.
Kim had her fair share of suffering these last couple of years. Her youngest daughter was diagnosed with leukemia at 20. Kim’s community pulled together and delivered food — what else can we do? — and talked and wrote together. Her daughter is doing fine now, thankfully, but everything weighed heavy on Kim for quite awhile. She knew she could no longer keep her daughter safe in the world.
I’ve been thinking for days about this email Kim sent me after her daughter was declared well. It has, somehow, been a solace to me now:
“I need to worry less about the next horrible thing that may happen and instead, be happy on a Friday night and go to the movie with my daughter and just be with her while I can. I know, consciously, that no planning or looking up leukemia on the internet or reading books about new treatments will really help–instead I should find a way to be clearly happy in the moments that are real and here and now. Its hard sometimes–she is just 20 after all and heavily into the eye-rolling when I talk, etc–but that is part of who she is right now too…and I have to find a way to remind myself that it is in the sitting down together at dinner and the walking the neighbor’s dog with her, etc that life is lived–not in the plans and worrying and trying so hard–it won’t save you anyway.”
It won’t save you anyway.
* * *
I don’t know what to write about death. I have no idea.
And I know damn well that I am writing at such great length about Kim because somehow she’s close to me now through these stories. And I know that I wasn’t nearly as close with Kim as many other people in her life.
But that’s the thing about Kim — and I’ll never use the past tense here — she loves people. She touches everyone who met her, even if only for five minutes. She makes you want to be alive, more fully, and laugh louder and throw out any pretenses or fears and just dig in.
Kim, I’m going to live and love even more ferociously because of you now.
A couple of weeks ago, my parenting mentor sent me this poem, which her oldest daughter had sent to her. Somehow, this is Kim too:
various ways i have saved the day for my nearly three year old daughter, Chad Perman
trips to the library
funny stories about people she knows
singing made up songs about mickey mouse, set to the tune
of songs i knew from a previous, younger life
playing our guitars together — hers is small, plastic and red,
it still sounds fantastic, crazy notes and all.
checking inside of closets and drawers, behind doors
and underneath beds
to assure her that it’s okay to fall asleep
telling her that the world is a good place
and willing her to believe it, at least a little longer.
candy, of course
and sometimes TV (I make no claims to being perfect)
but also milk, water, apple juice,
hummus, crackers, cheese
endless lines of books and books
going over the names of her relatives
the ones in Seattle, in Miami, and everywhere else
reviewing their birthdays, in chronological order
setting out her favorite pink sparkly ballet shoes where she can see them
so that she knows, always, that they are an option
to go along with her self-selected ensembles and
various accessories that, according to Olivia the pig,
are really quite vital.
telling her that her mommy and I love her more than anything
in the entire universe, but also
giving her space, no matter how hard that is,
so that she can try to figure out the world.
I don’t have a recipe for you today. Danny and I were going to cook up something delicious, say that we wished we could have shared it with Kim, and encouraged you to cook.
But you know what? I can’t.
Instead, I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to finish typing and let go of this. I’m going to sit talking with Danny, probably cry, and he’ll hold me. Then, we’ll bounce around the room when Lu wakes up, reading her books, painting with watercolors, laughing as we attempt to plant a garden on this freezing-cold day. Tonight, we’ll have friends over for dinner. We’ll feed them some of the dishes we have been working on for our new cookbook. We’ll laugh together and make plans for the weekend and watch our daughters play together.
And all the while, I’ll be thinking of this email Kim sent me a few months ago:
thank you for offering your home, your island and your friendship…especially to those of us that need reminding, amidst it all, that time with people we love is really all that matters.