Pine Nuts: Character matters

Elmo. Some people don’t need a last name. Elmo was the youngest American to win the highest award for knowing the most about wine back in 1972, yet he was not a wine snob. He lived on the edge of Kapiolani Park in Waikiki and I used pass his patio on my morning runs.

One Sunday morning Elmo hailed me and invited me to join him for breakfast out there on the patio, but I had a few more miles to go and gracefully declined.

“Please!” he insisted, with a note of urgency in his voice that told me I should probably join him. We shook hands and he silently poured us both a glass of red wine. I could see my running was over for the day, and I waited patiently for him to make a toast.

“I flew to Paris to purchase this bottle of wine, a 1933 Château Mouton Rothschild.“ And we raised our glasses.

“Elmo! What the devil are we doing drinking Rothschild on a Sunday morning?” I asked incredulously.

“It was an investment. I spent everything I was able to save over the summer on this one bottle of wine.“

I sat in awe, waiting for him to continue …

“I placed it in our refrigerator for temporary storage last night, knowing that Gail does not drink.”

Gail was his roommate, a beautiful former ice-skater who had recently retired from the Ice Follies and was cocktailing in Waikiki. What I did not know was that she had gained some weight and was somewhat depressed about it. Just then Gail appeared in her bathrobe, looking not well …

“Gail! Have a glass of red with us if you will!” hailed Elmo in his characteristic good cheer.

“No, thank you, I had a taste of that last night and it gave me a headache.”

Elmo shot me a glance that told me his heart had been hit. Then Gail told us her story …

“Rauel and I broke up last night and I came home feeling so down that for the first time in my life a glass of wine looked good, and it was good … but it left me with this headache. Still, I’m glad it was there because it made me forget about Rauel, and if you think I miss him this morning, well you can think again!”

Gail joined us for breakfast, which Elmo prepared with conviviality that was not contrived. We talked about Bobby Fischer defeating Boris Spassky in chess, and the signing of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. Elmo never mentioned the wine. He never even let on that anything out of the ordinary had happened, but consigned himself to enjoy the company, the conversation, and yes, the wine. Elmo never did tell her.

Looking back on that incident these many years later, I think Elmo must surely be the truest gentleman I have ever encountered. Character matters, whether it be in a Sommelier or a Commander in Chief, character matters …


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