Anthony Manuel Ramos
It's That Time of Year…again
Sometimes it is hard for me to sit down and write a blog post. I do enjoy writing, but I am my own harshest critic (such a Virgo trait). I often say that I need to feel inspired to get the ball rolling - to get the ideas and the theme to match up can be a challenge.
Here we are in the midst of my favorite month, my birthday month on the precipice of the fall season – the best time of year. Year after year growing up, the month of September was an exciting, reflective, and sometimes challenging month. A new semester of school would start bringing with it all of the excitement and anxiety of any new adventure. One particular new semester saw me leave the known environs of New Jersey for the educational opportunity of a lifetime in Boston, Massachusetts. This 17 year-old fresh-faced freshman had longed to leave the doldrums of the suburbs and become entrenched in a city steeped in history.
So I began my pursuit of a college education at Boston University (BU) in the fall of 1987. I instantly fell in love with my new home and became immersed in its history, world-famous attractions and that Puritanical sensibility. It was a beautiful place to live and my love affair with New England started right then and there. If you have ever had a lobster roll, seen a baseball game at Fenway Park, slurped fresh oysters or strolled the quaint streets in Provincetown – then you know what I am talking about here. I spent 18 years of my life in Boston and I essentially “grew up” there to become the person I am today.
P.S., I’ll save this romance story of New England for another blog post.
I’ve learned on this journey we call life, that people often come into our lives for a variety of reasons. Perhaps that reason is to give us a purpose, teach us a life lesson or just provide a really good time. BU attracted a number of students from all over the world bringing with them a myriad of international backgrounds offering a global perspective. During my freshman year I was lucky to make friends that hailed all the way from Japan to Long Island. Over the years I’ve come to understand that it’s what we take away from those interactions that has something to teach us about ourselves and the world around us. I ponder, how lucky we are to cross paths with people that unknowingly and intrinsically change our perceptions, help our minds grow, present us with new possibilities, and enrich us in ways we may never truly understand or grasp. That’s the beauty of meeting new people and developing friendships.
And what a journey my life has become!
During that first year at BU, I met Heather Malia Ho, who hailed from Honolulu, Hawaii. She certainly had a presence and style all her own coupled with a big personality. Heather was fun-loving, excited about life and thrilled to see her first snowfall in Boston since she had never experienced it ever. One night she invited me for dinner at her off-campus apartment – a real treat since dorm food is – well, you know. I’ll never forget she made the most delicious appetizer – a mushroom crostini. She sautéed a mushroom mélange with aromatic spices, added cream and cooked the mushroom sauce until it was nappante. The sauce was then spooned on thinly sliced toasted baguette that were scented with garlic – a perfect one bite – absolutely sublime. I’ve made mushroom crostini hundreds of times and credit Heather for teaching me to make it. It is one dish that people will remind me that they still crave.
During college, Heather jumped from major to major and finally settled into hotel & food management and after college she attended the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. She moved on to become a rising star pastry chef in San Francisco and New York City. Unfortunately, as life moves us forward, time and distance grew farther and longer apart so we fell out of touch.
Heather’s influence on me was two-fold. First, having heard so many wonderful things about Hawaii, I knew one day I would visit and I ultimately traveled there a number of times with trips to Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island. Second, was her passion for food – desserts in particular. While I am not a pastry chef, I can certainly appreciate cooking from the sweet side of the brain. I studied classic culinary cuisine at The French Culinary Institute (FCI) and savory is my game. When I was deciding to attend FCI at the age of 38 I thought about Heather. I felt encouraged by her hard work and fortitude. From that point, deciding to go to FCI was etched in my life’s journey. I am forever grateful for that inspiration.
Latin from Manhattan
Remembering those first days, weeks and months at BU my brain buzzed with new ideas, new people, a new city to explore and the stress of course work on top of those interactions. Meeting Adriana Legro was an integral part of those new college experiences. Adriana, known as AD to those that were close to her, was focused, determined, and guarded. AD was a New Yorker, through and through. Tough, no nonsense, direct, and sometimes very reserved. She was complex, her family was tight and when I learned that she lost her mother at an early age – it hurt on a level that was unfathomable. Knowing this, I could understand why she was guarded, and there were times I could sense that pain she held inside. It took awhile for us to become close friends, and I appreciated that slow maturing of our friendship. It felt purposeful and honest.
It was an easy decision to make Boston my home – there was no going back to New Jersey. During college, AD actually helped me secure a job at a stunning new café in a venerated haberdashery known as Louis, Boston. She took me under her wing and taught me so much about customer service, food safety, and hard work. It was a great opportunity for me. I needed to prove that I could support myself and AD had encouraged me along the way.
That was a magical summer in many ways, each day I would return to work at the café to set up for that day’s business. AD and I would banter, laugh and get the work done. The Chef and front of house manager (Helen and Michel) became my mentors, friends and surrogate parents in many ways. I could always count on this new little family to feel welcomed, nurtured and loved. It was a time in my life that was celebrated with food and I learned so much from these individuals. AD always had my back and she was fiercely loyal and protective. AD introduced me to her own family back in NY, her sister Maria and loving Grandmother embraced me so warmly.
Post college, AD was driven to succeed, she moved back to NYC and worked her way up the corporate ladder. She rose higher and higher in her career and I’d always take the opportunity to see her when I visited NYC. I was so impressed with her amazing success and knew it all came down to determination, hard work, and gumption. AD was a sounding board and had an innate sensibility to see beyond the proverbial bullshit. As I mentioned, she was the essence of a true New Yorker and after living there for over a decade, I understand where that comes from and I cherish that knowledge and experience.
As we move past the 20th Anniversary of 9/11 the reminder of those tragic events will always resonate with me. Many of us recall that awful day, where we were, what we were doing, who we were with – it is a day etched in our memories. The two amazing women I just told you about both perished in the collapse of the North Tower that day.
Heather was a pastry chef at Windows on the World in the World Trade Center. She had actually gave her notice in August of 2001 but being the admirable professional she had agreed to stay on until her position was filled. And on that fateful day she was taken from this world.
AD rose to a level in her career where she held a seat on a commodities trading desk working for Carr Futures on the 92nd floor of 1WTC. AD was scheduled to be out of the office that day and decided to go into work instead. After the plane struck the building, AD called her family and pleaded for them to call 911.
In October of 2001, AD’s family held her memorial. I spoke at the memorial, it was one of the hardest moments in my life but I wanted those who loved her to know how she was etched into my brain and the difference she made in my world. It was a somber, gut-wrenching event at a beautiful old church in the city. Her photo propped on an easel, that sparkling smile and glint in her eyes were a reminder of the incredible person, friend, sister, aunt, daughter, and co-worker that was simply – Adriana.
Twenty years later, I still think of those friends, the Rising Star and my Latin from Manhattan and wonder what they would think of how I’ve crafted my life. I yearn for their advice, I wonder how they would have helped guide me during some difficult times or choices I’ve had to make about careers and relationships.
I don’t want to end this post with feelings of sadness or loss. I think it is important to keep those who have passed – present – in our memories and to celebrate who they were during their lives and how they impacted us. If you take anything anyway from these musings it is to appreciate the family you were born into and further be grateful for the family you create. Those new connections have meaning and help us along this winding journey of life. I am so lucky to have people in my life, yesterday and today, that make the simplest moments…the most unforgettable.