Our friends filled our bellies, but they what they really offered was friendship.
Jesse and Dan’s ingenious modus operandi in securing our friendship was to feed us. My husband, John, and I had moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana for work, but we were lonely because our immediate family lived several states away. We knew we needed community, but we didn’t know where to look. John and I decided to pray for some friends and a few weeks later, we met the Richey family one Saturday afternoon after a Vigil Mass.
Dan, a former Louisiana senator and a recovering attorney, knows more about politics and history than anyone I know. When my father, a retired Marine Colonel and history enthusiast himself, met Dan for the first time, my dad asked me later, “Do you suppose he has a photographic memory?”
Dan’s brain is tack sharp.
And Dan’s wife, Jesse? She is all heart.
If Jesse sees a book she thinks you might like, you’ll find it tucked in your mailbox before the day is out. If you get sick and can’t cook for your brood, Jesse will prepare a casserole the size of Istanbul and put it in your oven. If it’s two a.m. and you’re in labor, you can call Jesse and she’ll come sit with your other children while you go to the hospital (even if she has to work the next day).
When I had three children under the age of three and was overwhelmed with life, Jesse came to my house every Thursday afternoon so I could go to Adoration and the grocery store, sans children. I would leave for an hour or two and come home, to calm children, dinner in the oven and several loads of laundry washed and folded.
I still don’t know how she did it.
One night soon after we met, Dan taught us how to play a Puerto Rican card game called “May I?” About once a month for many years to come, we found ourselves at Dan and Jesse’s dining room table, dealing cards and stuffing our faces with chips and dips. Dan has a competitive streak in him that’s as deep and wide as the Mississippi river, so I always took great pleasure in beating him at the game he taught me, which I accomplished on several occasions., thank you very much.
Once I told Dan, an avid gardener, I wanted to grow some vegetables. The next week, he showed up on my doorstep with a tiller and the supplies I needed to get started. He stayed all afternoon, tilling the soil and planting packets of tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, and eggplant. Our first garden was so fruitful, I had to give our freshly grown veggies away to neighbors, just so the food wouldn’t go bad.
The garden Dan helped me plant is one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me.
Sometimes on Saturday afternoons, Dan would call and say, “I just burned some meat. Come eat.”
John and I never refused the invitation. We’d load up the kids and travel the twenty minutes to the Richey house where we were guaranteed a delicious southern meal of ribs, chicken, beef, red beans, sautéed okra and other fresh veggies and whatever else Dan had decided to throw in a pot.
We never left their house empty handed. Jesse would pack large Ziploc bags full of grilled meats and shove them into our hands. These bags of home cooked food fed our family for days.
I think it was their unwavering devotion to the Catholic faith that was the greatest example to John and me, however. For as long as I’ve known them, they both regularly attend perpetual adoration, often in the middle of the night. They are also daily communicants and ardent defenders of the faith.
So when I woke up a few weeks ago to a text from a friend telling me Dan had a massive heart attack and was having emergency quadruple heart surgery, I sat on my living room couch and wept. A flood of memories came back to me, countless afternoons and evenings spent with Dan and Jesse and their beautiful family. I begged God to keep Dan safe, to make him well, but I also expressed deep gratitude for the gift of friendship that John and I shared with them.
When John and I were newly married, we didn’t have local people to call when we got a flat tire or we had to take the baby to the ER. We didn’t know anything about marriage and responsibility and how to incorporate our faith into our daily lives.
Dan and Jesse were the people who taught us some of these things. They were friends who become our family, who loved us despite our idiosyncrasies or dysfunction or maybe even because of it.
I talked to Dan and Jesse yesterday.
Dan is recovering from his quadruple bypass and he is doing great. Dan told me about the events leading up to his heart attack. We laughed about Dan’s answer to the nurse when she asked to what he was allergic.
“Democrats,” he said, which is such a Dan Richey answer.
Jesse told me about her grandchildren, especially her oldest grandchild’s love for photography. The joy those babies bring Jesse was palpable, even over our long distance phone call. She told me about her son, Joseph’s, recent wedding. I loved hearing about their lives and when I hung up the phone, I thanked God for bringing us Dan and Jesse.
You see, when we met them, God knew John and I would enjoy a home cooked meal at the Richey’s table, but He also knew what we needed was love and attention from people who cared. Dan and Jesse gave that to us and someday I hope I can pay their example forward to another young couple in need of friendship.
I hope I can sit two young married kids at my table and feed them a home cooked meal as an appetizer, but deliver an entrée of deep friendship.
Just like Jesse and Dan did for us.