I often reflect on the children I've met, read to, and shared things with. Recently I was thinking about a little boy named Jared who came to live at one of the group homes in Westchester. He was about 5 or 6 years old. We never know the children's back stories, nor their current situations there, except that most of them were orphaned and understandably confused when they first arrive.
Jared was soon placed into a group of boys who read with us at our Reading Center every Friday afternoon. He had straight, dark brown hair in a bowl cut and brown eyes. He looked very serious. The first time he came to our Reading Center, he looked around our room slowly and then walked over to the bookshelves, studying the bindings, trying to read the book titles. Most of the boys who read with us love trucks, or dinosaurs, or superheroes, but Jared was different. One of the staff took him by the hand to meet me.
He looked at me curiously and shouted "Bam....BAM, BAM." 'Do you know who that is?" he asked, defying me to answer correctly.
"I think it's that chef on TV, right?" I answered.
"It's Emeril. And I can cook like him. BAM, BAM, he shouted."
Emeril was all Jared wanted to talk about. "Bam, Bam, Bam" was what he bellowed with conviction throughout the afternoon. The other boys had lived with him for a couple of weeks now and seemed unfazed by his BAMS.
I took him aside and asked him about his fascination with the chef. Jared couldn't tell me exactly why he idolized Emeril and I wondered if it was just the excitement he wanted to mimic as he said 'Bam, Bam' all day. Jared was an advanced reader and I loved watching him study a new word and then sound it out.
The staff at Jared's cottage filled me in. Jared loved to watch Emeril cook on TV and he always wanted to help in the kitchen. While it was too dangerous for him to work the stove, they indulged him when they could, allowing him to gather ingredients from the fridge for dinner prep, arranging the place settings, and bringing the cooked food to the table. They told me he knew exactly when Emeril was on TV and which channel, and never missed an episode. He didn't utter a word during the show, he just watched, intently, taking in Emeril's every step and expression.
Over the next few weeks I loved engaging Jared in Emeril talk. I was in awe of how much this little boy knew and how determined he was to be like him. "Are you watching staff make dinner so you can learn how to cook and be like Emeril?" I asked him.
"I want to show you something," he said to me as he raced off to his room, presumably.
In seconds he was back, anxiously shoving two big heavy books at me.
Emeril cookbooks, of course.
"I can read these," he said, looking me straight in the eyes.
I had no doubt.
He opened one of the cookbooks about TV Dinners and started reading me a recipe for Rock Shrimp Stuffed Flounder.
I was amazed! My mouth was watering as he read, word for word, the entire recipe.
At the end he added one more word.
"Delicious" he said with a big smile!
I always rushed home on Friday nights to fill my husband Demo in on the boys and of course, on Jared's latest Emeril antics. He got a kick out of the recipe reading!
Demo was an actor and on the set of many commercials in those weeks and months. Shoot to shoot, he never knew who he'd be working with and often it was a celebrity endorsing a product. One day he called to tell me,
"You'll never guess who is in the commercial today! Emeril Lagasse! He's expected on the set any minute. Maybe I can get an autograph for your little friend" Demo told me.
"Oh wow! That would be so great!" I exclaimed.
"No promises, though, because they keep close reins on the celebs here," he told me.
About an hour later Demo called me and was whispering into the phone. I could hardly make out what he was trying to tell me.
"I made my way over to Emeril, told him about little Jared and he signed an autograph specifically to Jared!!"
I was over-joyed - I was so excited I could barely stay in my skin!
That night after Demo showed me Emeril's autograph to Jared I couldn't get to sleep. What an incredible gift I was holding for a five-year-old boy whose every day was filled with ways to emulate his hero, a chef!
The next Friday afternoon I waited and waited for Jared's group to come and read. I saw him from across the room and motioned for him to run to me. He did, with a quizzical look on his face.
"I have something special for you to read today," I told him as I struggled to sit still. I whipped out the sheet of paper I had behind my back and handed it to him.
He studied it carefully and slowly read it out loud with my help.
"To Jared, my friend and chef of the future!! BAM, BAM! Love, Emeril"
Jared's eyes lit up as he looked at me.
"Where did you get this?!"
"My husband met chef Emeril the other day and told him all about you and he wanted to write you this personal note!"
"Wow, I'll keep this forever and ever with my books!" Jared said as he ran around the room showing it off, proud as could be.
I wonder what Jared will be when he grows up. Food for thought.