“Thank you Dear Heart, that was the best tastings of the year”-Walter
Big smile spreading across my mug as I stand face to face with a grumpy curmudgeon with twinkly, wine softened eyes and what can only be described as a smirk from ear to ear. Took one hell of a long time to get there with Walter and I, years of snapping back and forth, my brow furrowed and scrunched so hard, for so long that if felt bruised, eye rolling, big huffy sighs and the occasional storming off in a snit. Him picking at me, likely because he could tell it bothered me and me being woefully annoyed by the old fart that asked a million questions and grumbled if the free bread we put out for our tastings was cut in too big or too small pieces. Pain in my ass, Walter has been a pain in my ass for fifteen years and while it took me some time to discover it, he likes it that way…
“If you billed it as a Sam tasting it might get more traction” - Walter
In all the years I’ve known him not much has changed outside from the car he drives, used to be a Woody, and not a classic or restored one, it was busted to shit and I swear it had Flintstone foot holes for breaks. Now the bus is the preferred method of transit for the super slender, baseball hat wearing, furry faced, cheese snarfing, pate grubbing, new customer scaring cantankerous sweetheart that never misses one of my tastings….well other than the Champagne ones that he can’t quite afford to attend.
“Number seven really liked the liver!” - Walter
I think it was around 2003, just after I came back from my first trip to Europe, when I noticed that Walter’s abrasion left me far less itchy than it used to. Not sure if it was the way I had changed after that trip, my new found confidence and much bigger voice that made him less irritating, or if my taking the trip, immersing myself in the foods and wines of France for nearly a month, had upped my street cred with Walter, but for some reason there were far fewer huffs and eye rolling about eight years into our somewhat forced relationship. But it wasn’t until I took over all the buying for our French wines that Walter started not only being way nicer to me, he started complimenting me, effusively. Very weird sensation I assure you, kind of like when you became an adult and your sibling/s tell you how much they miss you, not totally impossible to believe but you keep waiting for the Wet Willie or Indian Burn…
“That fucking paella was outstanding and your wine selection was miraculous!” – An excited Walter that pelted my shirt with spent bits of rice that came flying from his enthusiastic grill.
Almost always the first to arrive for my tastings, (thank you Long Beach Transit) Walter still pokes at me a little, questioning my spelling and pronunciation of French labels and regions, pointing out typos and errors on our tasting sheet with such vigor you would think he were getting paid for it…pain in my ass, but to watch his frail frame bounce up and down, hear him snarl into a glass after finding his particular brand of funk in the aromatics, watch those less initiated in the Art of Walter, back away looking slightly terrified as the bearded stick figure swings his arms about shouting, “That’s disgusting!!!” with utter and absolute glee, something I’ve come to not only adore, I down-right crave it, pick wines to ensure that happens at least once a tasting.
“If you knew how easy it is to quit you would kick yourself” - Walter
Upon hearing that I quit smoking….
“If you need to talk you know who to call. I am so on board with this!” – Walter
Walter has, somehow and for some crazy reason, become one of my most ardent and supportive fans at the store. He and I dig classic and rustic wines, wines high in acid and low in alcohol, wines that wear the accent of their homeland and, as it turns out, seems as if we’ve grown to kind of adore each other as well. Where there used to be eye rolling and huffing, there is now head shaking and laughter. Walter brags on me in a way that makes me terribly and wonderfully embarrassed and I find myself watching over and worrying about this crusty bastard far more than I could have ever imagined. I light up when he arrives, cannot wait to share my discoveries with him and dammit if that old bastard hasn’t gone and made me love him in some weirdly familial way….fucker.
“It took a couple tries but I haven’t smoked in 10 years” - Walter
I confess to being a bit taken aback when I saw Walter’s name crossed off the reservation list for my tasting this past Friday. I wasn’t upset or hurt, in fact I assumed that he must have had some beer dinner, (big fan of those our Walter) or his finances were a little too tight to swing the $50 entrance fee. He can’t make them all and I get that but Burgundy, Red Burgundy, My Red Burgundy tasting? Struck me as odd but I quickly put it out of my head as the reservations started coming in fast and furious. Just days before the class my coworker and ex-customer Andy approached me, big, deep, chest-filling breath and “Well, you won’t be seeing Walter for a bit”….fuck.
So it looks like the 50 years before the 10 have caught up with my beloved Walter and Tuesday afternoon he underwent an 11 hour surgery to remove a piece of his cancer infected lung, and he knew about it and told none of us for months….asswad. I was wrongfully under the assumption that I was in the loop and junk, especially seeing as I have been privy to, “I’m on new meds so keep an eye on me” conversations with the 75 year old cheese eater. I was wrong, and I should have known better. Walter is Walter, a private man that shares only his passion for food and wine with me and after all the years it took to get that much, I have to say that I am very grateful to have it. I drove past the VA hospital on my way home from my Burgundy event, knew Walter was there, alone and all it would take was a slight left hand turn of my steering wheel. I let my fingers rest on my turn signal, my heart simultaneously pulling and terrified, my admittedly arrogant feeling of entitlement nearly enough but as the light switched from red to green I took my fingers of the rod on my steering column and went straight, driving past the hospital….no matter how much I wanted to go in and not only hug him, but tell him about the wines I had poured, which ones he would have loved but also maybe rescue the ICU nurses and assure them that the puny, foul-mouthed, bearded one was way more bark than actual bite….but I didn’t. In the end I had to respect Walter’s wishes to handle this alone. Hurts and I missed him more on that drive home that I ever thought possible.
“Have you been to (Insert whatever new restaurant here) yet?!” – Walter
“So I’ve decided that Walter has to get better, and soon seeing as I have that Loire Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc tasting scheduled for the first Friday of 2013….and he needs to be there”- Me, talking, wishing, hoping and fingers crossed talking to my boss Randy.
I’ve got in all kinds of amazing new wines Walter. More Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc than you can believe and dude, they are fucking brilliant. We need to taste them together kid….we aren’t done yet you and me Walter. - Me xoxoxox
(Walter's name has been changed because he is a grouchy old bastard that might just get mad at me for using his real one...asshole.)