When our waiter announced that Thor would be out in a moment, my father did a double-take and raised his eyebrows gently above the frames of his glasses.
Who knew that Bananas Foster was a specialty of proud Norsemen? Thor arrived moments later, happily setting his cart out in anticipation of his flambe act. He firmly announced that he was, indeed, Thor and–without saying as much–it was imperative that we be silent and listen as he explained what he was about to do with the bananas, butter, brown sugar, rum, fire, and ice cream. Thor was sturdy and probably about 70-years-old. I immediately noticed that his hands did not look like the hands of any man I had ever met before. Even my grandfather, who spent his life operating machinery, did not have hands such as this.
“Did the young lady choose tonight’s dessert?” I was silent for a moment, looking at my dad, who nodded toward Thor. He was speaking to me. I squeaked.
His accent was subtle and unmistakable. He could have lived in America his entire life and maintained that accent through sheer willpower. I looked again at those calloused hands as Thor smiled down on me. Sitting at a table with one’s father in an expensive restaurant while home from college for the first time makes you feel small. Looking up at Thor made me feel like an infant. What was this man doing preparing desserts in Seattle? I would only sit and wonder as Thor began his task until my dad asked the question which to he must have known I wanted an answer.
“How long have you been working here, Thor?”
“Nine years, sir.” Thor didn’t need prompting; he enjoyed telling diners of his career before setting food alight. “Before, I was on a boat. Crab.”
HOLY CRAP! Captain Sig Hansen’s dad was making our dessert! My eyes must have bugged out because my dad interceded to prevent what would have been an inappropriate outburst.
“Crab fisherman! Outstanding! Up here in the strait?” My dad might have well pointed south toward Portland, but he motioned to a place outside of the restaurant, nonetheless.
“Yes, sir. For 37 years. I was the chef of the boat, too.” Thor smiled broadly, and I thought of him trying to prepare this very dish on a boat full of crab fishermen while it was tossed about freezing Arctic waters. I wanted to blurt so many things out. Did Thor throw the hook? Did he fish King Crab, Opeys? Was he the Captain? Were there a lot of fights on the boat? I was not paying attention to the conversation, so my dad must have told Thor of my love for all things Discovery Channel. A large calloused hand was gently on my back.
“They never made a television show about us.” Thor smiled down upon me while blindly sprinkling brown sugar with his other hand. My dad laughed heartily, and I scowled, resenting that Thor had never been given his chance. “I recognize a few of them, but I didn’t know them well. Crab fishing has changed a lot in the time since I began.” The cart was on fire. I felt the heat on my arms and neck and looked upon the flambe while Thor tossed bananas and fire about. He could have done this blind, but he took as much pride in his dishes as he undoubtedly took in crab fishing.
I finally summoned the courage to ask Thor about his time on the boat. I asked if he was ever fearful for his life, to which he explained he had been fortunate enough to never have been on a boat that went down and he had only experienced a few “close calls.”
“Have you ever seen a man on the deck get the rope caught on his foot and be nearly pulled over with the pot?” I nodded yes remembering the ominous words of Mike Rowe explaining how that could happen and pull a man to almost certain death in the icy sea. “Another man was able to cut the rope just in time. It only took a few seconds, you know. The pot would have pulled my leg clean off if had tried to hang on.”
Thor regaled us with a few more short stories of on-deck pranks and danger and had to move on to another table. I couldn’t stop thinking about why Thor chose to work now. It could be a need for money or the love of what he does. Later I thought about how we look to TV and movies to entertain us, but we often need look no farther than the life stories of those we meet every day. Sometimes life and TV even intersect. Perhaps Thor works because he enjoys telling his story. How many of us will live a life that will demand the attention of the others who are told?