So yesterday was a bit of a rough one.
It wasn’t work that was tough. My colleagues and I launched a new site, Yahoo Food, a work in progress of which, as Features Editor, I’m proud. We’ve been toiling away for a couple of months behind closed doors, and now the floodgates are open to everyone’s critiques. It’s a challenge we’re up for; constructive criticism is a good thing, and you can send it here or even here until we get comments functionality.
But the first story in what we in the biz call the “hero module”—the one with the floury hands shown above—when that one went live, my heart sank a bit. I’ve been working on this piece on and off for several years, and although I hope it’s well-written, and that it moves you to cook for the people you love, it doesn’t do justice to the woman who inspired it.
My first mentor, who I call “Betty” in the essay, could write circles around me. Not only did she get me my first job in magazines, but she was terribly kind about my earliest, most horrible drafts of stories. Her stories had the most gorgeous, ephemeral ledes—all sweetness and light, for an île flotante—and then she’d hit you with a perfect pun, or a flip turn of phrase that made you giggle. Her kickers left you wishing the article was twice its length.
She wrote circles around me, and she would have written circles around me today, and I wish like hell I hadn’t had to write this piece at all, and that she was still here. Her empathy was extraordinary; no matter how down cancer got her, she always wanted to hear about your day. Betty was just straight-up a better person than I am, and I think of her when I consider how best to treat other people.
I didn’t use her name, and I never would, because her byline was a source of pride. (She wasn’t vain or arrogant, ever, but she was a perfectionist when it came to her work.)
My little essay is just an effort to remind the chilly people in the big cities that casseroles and caretaking can be transporting for those in need, especially this time of year.