So, the circle turns.
I have an interesting history, which involves restaurant work, a reasonable amount of travel, and insane amounts of time around wine. And there are people in my world who have made it a better place for me, and a better human of me.
And Tom was one of those men. Erudite, before I comprehended the term. Brilliant in his field, and respected by all around him. Surrounded by books, perpetually. Always one for seeing the beauty in everything, from the banal to the blessedly complex.
And engaging of his friends’ children. Offering to explain. Shining a light forward. Comprehending that language most purely exists in a context, and without that context, the language will never be understood in its pure intent.
I thought growing up that their furniture was made of books. There were seeming acres of bookshelves, and piles of books on the ground. All in a semblance of order, yet also often plucked from their surrounds on a whim, and breeding a pure academic delight.
My family members are no slouches . They know their way around academia. And better than most. The love Tom showed for his life endeavour, for the pursuit of learning simply because it makes us better people, was inspirational, even as a child messing about in the stacks in their home. And, I like to think, to my parents.
I took inspiration from his wife: an English teacher like my mother, the two of them shared an uncanny knack with engaging their audience, be it the kids who never understood why and how the questions were asked, to the hyper-intelligent kids chafing at the bit. These two women have passed books into my hands over the years. And let me wander unfettered through libraries of beautiful knowledge.
And Tom and his wife showed me that the beauty of knowledge, academia, and the eternal drive to learn, know and comprehend was not just the province of my family. And let me take it further than I may have possibly imagined. And all over a few scant visits. Meals. Coffee. The odd Boxing Day hijinks. Memories distorted by time and childish memory.
It is funny how such incidental people in our lives leave such deep imprints . The man who taught me not just the rules of backgammon, but how to play the game. The co-op winery in Italy that let a 16 year old Australian kid get her hands dirty. The poetry tutor who told us that inspiration was nothing without labour. Had we not laboured, our work was nothing. (They cannot all be positive.)
The winemaker who trusted me.
The English teacher who changed my world.
The boss who took a chance.
The three parents’ friends who never treated us like children.
The Chinese aunt who expected the best, not the worst of these white kids’ tastebuds.
The other aunt who brooked no frivolity, but taught us better than many how to fend for ourselves.
The great aunt who was oh so very young at heart. Until the day she died.
And her partner, whose heart gave up a week later, from loss.
The restaurant owner, who saw something in me, and in countless others.
The friend who took my keys and packed the most comprehensive bag for when I was in a quarantine unit with swine flu. And sent countless meals from his restaurant, but wouldn’t take a dime from me.
The people all over the world who have welcomed me into their homes and lives, for no reason other than that someone asked.
The members of the contrada della giraffa in Siena who made me their mascot for a month. Just because I arrived, and on that day, they won.
The wine friend, who helped find me a home and understand Adelaide for no reason other than wanting to do so.
Another wine friend who takes calls when he shouldn’t, and answers my silly questions, and reads my bountiful rants. And responds in kind.
The friends who just love, when I give them so very many reasons to forget.
The man always saw people as better than they might ever be. And his pure, driven, brightly intelligent nature, which drove me to be better, when I was old enough to recognise what could be better.
Thank you, Tom. I raise a glass to your name, and everything you have done. Thank you everyone who has brought me here. And the ones I will forget to thank in the future.
I’m sorry: nothing to do with wine, or business, but something to do with being better. Look to the ones who are around us, look to their strength, and thank them just for being.
Or not. I never have. But today I have cause to remember.
And I raise a glass to you all.