When I think of Kuku, I can’t help but think of Matthew 14:13-21. That, of course, is the famous story of Jesus taking five loaves and two fish and feeding over 5,000 (with twelve baskets of food leftover.) Miss Welch and I met Kuku and Paul in Chicago in 1988. We became fast friends and over the following years we enjoyed dozens and dozens of meals together. And while we tried feebly to reciprocate, most of the fine meals were prepared by Kuku. They were, of course, delicious. Needless to say, she was attentive to the dietary preferences, idiosyncrasies, and strange eating habits of each guest, and all was taken into account. As with Jesus, the food that Kuku provided was also a metaphor for much more, as she provided intellectual, emotional, and spiritual nourishment to all who knew her. You always left the Glastris table with a full stomach and a lightened heart. She also hoped that you left with a more liberal bent than when you arrived, but that was never a sure thing.
To say that she was ever gracious and generous is not to suggest that Kuku was a pushover by any means. She ruled her dining table with a benevolent, yet firm, hand. In the early years in particular, the conversation would occasionally become overly impassioned and, in Kuku’s judgment, simply too loud and even rude. In response, Kuku deployed a couple of simple, yet effective rules for moderating the discourse. Borrowing from basketball, she introduced the concept of “the shot clock” which measured how long someone could hold forth without giving others an opportunity to weigh in. If one was pontificating beyond reason and seemingly without coming to a point, Kuku would warn them once, and if he or she persisted, she called the shot clock violation and they were forced to stop talking, at least for a moment, to give others a chance. Hardly surprising, Paul was the most frequent violator of the shot clock rule. Along similar lines, but this time borrowing from hockey, she introduced “the penalty box.” This was an all-purpose penalty that Kuku levied on someone who became too loud, kept interrupting, used profane language, or otherwise was deemed unpleasant. A trip to the penalty box meant that the offender had to stop talking for two minutes. Kuku ran the clock, so the two minutes was at her discretion. This was when Kuku was at her firmest. Having been sent to the box, there was no chance of release until the time was paid in full, and some sort of feigned repentance was expressed. Both Paul and I were guilty of many such infractions over the years. Indeed, we typically thought a dinner party was boring and rather lackluster unless we each had made a trip or two to the box.
Over the years the debates mellowed a bit, especially as the kids started to arrive and Paul gradually began to realize that I was correct on most issues. First Hope, then Connor, Patrick, and Sloan. Adam batted clean up. Kuku freely showered them all with love and attention, not to mention her abiding affection for a series of dogs and cats. The kids were weaned at the dinner table, growing up immersed in discussion of politics and world affairs. At an early age, they learned the proper sequencing of beverages in front of Paul: coffee, red wine, Irish whiskey, water.
Those meals shared together were the most enjoyable evenings of my life. What a great tragedy that Kuku’s life was cut short. We will all miss her terribly. For Paul, Hope, Adam, and Schindler in particular, this is such a heavy cross to bear. Just know that you are surrounded by many loving friends. We are always here to help and, in Kuku’s spirit, to offer a good meal.