The power of Chocolate

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
― Charles M. Schulz

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(a decadent slice of chocolate heaven from Sprungli’s cafe Zurich, Switzerland / Julie Cook / 2012)

For Mother, it was an icy cold Coke.
For Dad, it is chocolate, any and all sort.

Yesterday, late morning, I ran into one of my family’s favorite places in Atlanta.
Henri’s Bakery.
Henri’s is one of the oldest existing bakeries in the city, that and Rhodes Bakery. And granted there are better tasting bakeries within the city, Henri’s has long been woven into the fabric of my life starting when my mother was a little girl. I’ve never really thought much about it but I suppose having a very french sounding bakery in the middle of “old Atlanta” is a bit odd, especially to those transplant yankees and / or visitors to the city.

Henri’s is in the exact same location it’s been in since I was a little girl. Tucked away on a small unassuming little side street and now prime real-estate corner lot, lacking adequate parking, almost cowering in the shadows of high-rise office buildings, uber chic condos and the elegant St Regis Hotel. . .in an area that is at the center of what one considers to be the heart of true Atlanta or more commonly known as Buckhead.

Today’s Buckhead area is known for its posh and ultra chic shopping, Michelin Star dinning, eclectic watering holes, and 5 star hotels—a playground and shopping mecca of the famous and not so famous.
I simply just know it as the place where I spent my childhood and my growing up as both my grandmothers lived in Buckhead. It’s where my mom and dad grew up. . . walking to attend school, riding bikes to the movies, eventually meeting on a blind date and lucky for me, marrying.

Buckhead’s humble beginning was a far cry from today’s scene of upscale prestige. There once was an old general store at the crossroads of what is today’s Roswell Rd and Peachtree Rd. A single dirt road diverged into two separate dirt roads exactly at the site of the general store, with the store being the stopping point on one’s journey up either of the two roads. On the front of the old general store, up above the door, was a mounted head of a buck—hence Buckhead. This was a time long before Sherman had even set his sites on Atlanta, burning it to the ground.

Henri’s opened up in Atlanta in 1929, owned and operated by Henri Fiscus–a man who immigrated to Atlanta from France where he had been trained as a classic Chef. The original location was actually in downtown Atlanta–the location where my aunt remembers visiting every Sunday evening, along with my mom and grandmother, as they would go pick up Sunday’s quick and easy, but oh so fresh and good, supper. To this day, when she comes back to Georgia for a visit, I have to take her over to Atlanta to Henri’s for one of their famous Po Boys on the savory house made French Baguettes. I happen to be partial to the shortbread cookies. . .

I had driven over to Atlanta yesterday to run a few errands before going over to see Dad.
I had told Dad that I would pick up lunch.
“Oh no you don’t have to do that, I think we have something here”
“Dad, just ask Gloria if she’d like for me to pick up lunch.”
“GLO”
“Dad, if she’s not close by just ask her later and call me back”
I think he was afraid he’d forget to ask her as he continued hollering her name.
I suppose getting up and going to see where she was would have been too much to ask.
“GLO”
“IT’S JULIE ON THE WIRE”
Wire Dad?
Long story of yelling short, Gloria said yes, she’d like for me to pick up lunch.

After running a few errands in town, I headed over to Henri’s.
The last place my grandmother had lived was across the street from Henri’s.
Her condominiums having long since been torn down, now making room for a sprawling modern upscale living and shopping development. As I fight off the sweeping cloak of melancholy and longing that always finds me when I drive past my memories, I fretted about finding a parking spot.
Henri’s gets very very crowded at lunchtime–so much so that they have an off duty Atlanta policeman directing traffic.

Today I was lucky, a spot at the front door! Woohoo!!
Walking in the door, I immediately grab a shopping basket and head over to the shelf containing the sandwiches. There is only a limited number of the “famous” sandwiches that are made up for the day–if you’re not early, you miss out but there is now a counter where you can have your sandwiches custom made if you prefer. I grab two of the Po boys and a regular turkey on white for dad, a couple of sacks of chips as I make for the most important counter in the store. . . the beautifully displayed pastries, cakes and cookies.

As I ogle the decadent goodies through the glass, a woman behind the counter asks if she can help me.
I ask for 2 dozen of the shortbread cookies, the ones with the little colorful sugar dot in the center, with each dozen going in a separate box. One box to stay with dad, one box to go home with me.
Next I ask for the most important item of all on my list—two chocolate bombs.
A most decadent conglomeration of chocolate cake, cream, chocolate ganache, a chocolate shell covered in chocolate shavings—for I know my father’s weakness. . .Chocolate.

Dad let’s me in the house as I carry in our lunch.
Like a little kid, he can’t wait for me to pull out the magic little white boxes.
“What’s that?”
“What’s in there?”
“What’s in that box?”
“Cookies Dad.”
“Oooo, I love cookies”
“What’s in that thing?”
“That Dad is your chocolate bomb–2 of them” I proudly proclaim knowing that I have just made his day.
“Oooooo”

Dad eats only half his sandwich before he asks for a cookie.
He chooses the cookie with the chocolate dot on top, opting the eat the chocolate center while leaving the shortbread cookie part behind. At 87 I’m thinking he’s acting more like 7 but I don’t say anything.
“Can I have my bomb now” as glee filled expectancy fills the room.
“You’ve got two of them Dad, you can eat them whenever you’d like!”
“I want one now” which is more of a demand than a polite statement.
In less then 10 minutes, the only thing remaining on his plate are a few chocolate crumbs.

Happy, chatty, friendly and the most attentive and focused he’s really been in a long time, Dad has had a good day, which in turn equates to my having had a good day with Dad.
There is often no substitute for the familiar, the tried and the true.
In this case a humble little outdated bakery which is still owned and operated by the founding family, throw in a couple of sandwiches, a box of shortbread cookies, a chocolate bomb or two, and you’ve got the making of a magical moment.
May we never under estimate the power of chocolate.

We can’t go back home. . .

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile, to escape to Europe and some foreign land, back home to lyricism, to singing just for singing’s sake, back home to aestheticism, to one’s youthful idea of ‘the artist’ and the all-sufficiency of ‘art’ and ‘beauty’ and ‘love,’ back home to the ivory tower, back home to places in the country, to the cottage in Bermuda, away from all the strife and conflict of the world, back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time–back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
― Thomas Wolfe

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(kitchen window at Dad’s, my childhood home which has also changed / Julie Cook / 2013)

There is only one thing in life that is certain, other than death and taxes, and that is change.
Change is the only one true constant in life.
A constant state of flux with an undulating fluid forward motion
Growing
Shrinking
Evolving
Morphing
Changing
Nothing stays as we once knew it to be.

And yet, everything, everything that was, everything that helped to define us, that comforted us, that taught us, and nurtured us, is trapped in a static time warp buried protectively deep in the recesses of our mind.
Where it all stays nice and safe.
Safe from progress,
from age,
from growing,
from dying,
from changing

And so it is, when we travel back–back to that place where we were who we were before now. To the place that was and and to the place where everything was and in our memories remains safe.
To the place that was familiar and warm.
To the place that knew us and accepted us for who we were, for what we were, which at that time, was not very much at all.
Not like today.
Not like we are now. . .
For we are no longer that person, the person we once recognized as simply ourselves.
For we are now an important person, a busy person, an adult person, a tired person, a stressed person, a lost person, a new person, a bruised person, a broken person.
And yet all we want, all we long for, is to go back, back home.
To the place that was.
To that place that knew us and we knew it.

Yet looking around at the now grossly unfamiliar, the vaguely familiar, the surreal familiar. . .
as in. . .it all looks oddly familiar yet now oddly different. . .
as in. . .we once knew that this one particular road would take us here and that one particular road would take us there, but this road, this new road of today. . . where will it lead?
No longer will we be going where we thought we were going.
The hometown, the place where we thought we would recognize some minuscule tiny remaining fragments, there is now sadly, oddly more new than old.
The familiar has been:
Torn down.
Built up.
As in. . .
It’s all bigger
It’s all smaller
It’s moved
It’s shut down
It’s repurposed
It’s expanded
It’s grown
It’s crowded
It’s now all so complicated.
So different.

We now find ourselves sad, melancholy and aching for something that is now tangibly long gone. . . lost to the ebb and flow of the changing tides of life.
We desperately seek comfort and solace, we need to be embraced, remembered, taken in to the fold one last time–
For isn’t that what home, the hometown, the childhood is all about?
Acceptance, comfort, solace, a warm embrace, the familiar. . .
And then, as if out of no where we hear a voice, a soothing comforting voice.
A voice that is Love personified.
A voice that sounds familiar and speaks to us in tender familiar tones.
A voice that knows us.
As in knows our inner being, the good, the secret, the bad.
A voice that knew us back then and acceptingly knows us now.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
(Isaiah 43:1)

A familiar sounding voice that calls out in the now cold and unfamiliar, and tells us, tells me, that we are, that I am, claimed. We, you, I, are all acknowledged, remembered. . .in all of the unfamiliar, in all of the longing for what was and is frustratingly no longer, a voice that offers a welcome, an embrace, a welcome home, has thankfully called out to you and to me and has claimed us as His own.
Welcome Home.
Hallelujah!!