Tour de Herb

The best way to honor the life of a favorite uncle? A tour of the places where he most liked to eat.
uncle herb

My beloved uncle Herb died in February at the age of 87, and his family threw a party last weekend to celebrate his long, happy, eventful life. They rented a big room looking out over Seattle’s Elliot Bay. A slideshow from Herb’s many adventures cycled over and over. There were speeches and music, including two renditions of “Joe Hill.” (Herb was a union man all his life.) There was a pile of bagels, cream cheese, and Northwest lox so big I’m sure Herb was thrilled. My parents were there, and after a few hours visiting with everyone in my mom’s extended family it felt like it was time to say goodbye. But my parents’ flight home didn’t leave until evening, and the toddler wanted every last moment of their time, so we decided to spend the afternoon on a “Tour de Herb.” Which is to say we went to have lunch and a sweet.

Lunch was at fish and chips and red chowder at Ivar’s Acres of Clams, one of the first places Herb took me when I started coming to Seattle. There’s a dining room, but the tradition with Herb was to get your food at the take-out window and eat it out on the pier. I hadn’t been in a decade and I can’t say I had high expectations: the place has been there since 1938, the motto is “Keep clam,” and it’s in a part of town absolutely overrun with tourists, so there’s not much return business. But damn, that food is really good, the fish fresh as you could ask for and perfectly fried, crunchy on the outside and flaky in the middle, the soup a perfect blend of acidic tomato and sweet clam. We watched the ferries cross Puget Sound and talked about our family and the passing of time while the toddler did her best to eat all the chowder.

But how I remember Herb best is traveling. He spent years as a marine engineer, and even after he stopped shipping out to Singapore and Venezuela, he would pick up and head off for any reason or for no reason at all. And because every trip he ever took included a stop at a bakery, I took my family to Macrina. Herb and I started haunting the place when it opened more than fifteen years ago. The bread is fabulous but (in Herb’s honor, of course) we got coffee and pastries instead: a thick apple tart that the toddler couldn’t get enough of; apricot/pistachio/oatmeal cookies; a delicate French macaroon; a fruit muffin filled with intense raspberry jam.

At the memorial people talked some about what a fine man Herb was: how deeply principled, how generous with time and effort, how concerned with the welfare of others. But everyone talked, too, about how curious he was, and how much joy he found in the people and the world around him. That’s my favorite memory of him—the knowledge that life is sweet when we take the time to savor it.

Addendum: After hearing from much of my extended family I need to add that yes, I do know that Herb’s very favorite place for fish and chips in recent years (meaning the last few decades) was The Spud, but we were downtown and Ivar’s was closer. Please forgive me.

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