They will be missed.
Ours was a friendship that began with food. I first met Scarlet when I trained her to work as a cashier at our restaurant. Because she had a small child-- Joseph was three, at the time-- she only worked for a few months before deciding she had more important priorities. But, during that time, we engaged in a continual exchange on the topic of food and cooking (which veered at times into questions of language or culture). Scarlet, like the owner of my restaurant and many of the cooks there, is Korean. She is the exact same age as I am, and had been at that time in the U.S. about 8-10 years, I believe. However, it seemed that her eating habits had remained primarily Korean, and she had somehow been able to evade knowledge of such common American concepts as "toast," "grilled cheese," and "herbal tea," until thrust into an American restaurant setting. (Our establishment is as much an American diner as it is a Korean restaurant.) Suddenly it became important to understand that toast was not a unique food item, but a condition that could be applied to all types of bread, and that "grilled cheese" did not typically refer to halloumi, but to a familiar (to Americans), comfort-food sandwich. The linguistic limitations that made it so impossible for me to explain "herbal tea" without waxing oxymoronic ("OK now, it's tea... without any tea in it") made us laugh for years.
Before Scarlet quit her job, she surprised me with a suggestion. She thought it would be a good idea for my daughter, then aged 11, to meet regularly with her son Joseph (whom I had not then met), for "tutoring." Scarlet was worried that Joseph, a late bloomer in the language department, would not be well-prepared for English-language kindergarten in a little over two years. She would pay my daughter. I was skeptical. I thought it was premature to worry about kindergarten; I wasn't sure whether my daughter would be interested, or qualified (Scarlet had never met her either!); I thought it was unlikely that much "tutoring" would take place with a reportedly hyperactive 3-year-old; and the pay seemed too generous for an 11-year-old babysitter. And what if the arrangement didn't work out? I didn't want to disappoint anyone. However, Scarlet was adamant. My daughter, contrary to my expectation, liked the idea. And the rest was history. We met with them every week, barring illness, vacations, snowstorms, etc., for the next two and a half years.
Several things happened.
1) We fell in love with Joseph. He referred to Althea as his noona, or "big sister," and she eventually began to think of him as a little brother too. He never did get very good at sitting still, or learn to appreciate vegetables, but he also retained his sweet, sunny nature as he grew more and more verbal, in both Korean and English. Now, like any six-year-old, he will regale you with a blow-by-blow of a TV show, or details of his kindergarten classroom, as he rides behind you in the car; or more likely he will talk on and on about Minecraft (what parents cannot relate to that?).
2) All that sitting at the table and chatting in the kitchen or on park benches created an actual adult friendship between Scarlet and me. For women in their forties-- particularly women like me with older children, who no longer meet fellow parents at school-- new friendships are not so easy to come by, and consequently are precious.
3) Much food was shared. At my house, we might have home-made baked goods (Scarlet being gratifyingly amazed by this skill-- I hadn't thought about how unfamiliar baking and roasting techniques are for Asians until Scarlet mentioned it), or a preview of whatever I was cooking for dinner, or perhaps, if it was a busy day, just some crackers and fruit. At Scarlet's house, we might have homemade mung bean pancakes, or spring rolls, an udon dish, a stir-fry, or (on a very lucky day) some galbi jjim. On days when she didn't have time for elaborate cooking, we'd have kim-bob from the H-Mart next door, maybe some slices of asian pear, interesting packaged Korean snacks. I discovered that, counter to my cultural assumptions, Asians do not necessarily drink tea (herbal or otherwise). Scarlet and I offered each other tea dutifully for months before realizing that we both preferred coffee or water and desisted.
Not infrequently, we went out. If we played at the park, there was a good chance we'd go for ice cream (or gelato, or frozen yogurt) afterwards. If it were any of our birthdays, Scarlet jumped at the excuse to go to a restaurant together (and virtually always fought me tooth and nail for the check). She liked to try new places, but didn't seem to go to restaurants with just her family. (Perhaps it was because Joseph, by his own account, liked McDonald's best.) As time wore on, she didn't always need birthdays to inspire her; she would suggest trying this ramen joint or that Thai restaurant, just for fun. Scarlet had several family members in the restaurant business, back in Korea, so perhaps she had a special feeling for restaurants and nobody much, here in Maryland, to enjoy them with.
I still felt uncomfortable that they were essentially paying us to hang out with them, but-- for us at least-- the concept of our meetings as a "job" for Althea became less and less relevant. They were just our friends, although every few weeks my friend would discreetly slip me an envelope full of cash for Althea, contributing an investment towards her future. A few weeks before they moved away, Althea said to me, "I love Joseph. I would do this, now, even if I didn't get paid."
Friends, we wish you well. And we can't wait to come visit Louisiana and try new foods with you.