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Grateful for a Chance Meeting

An unexpected encounter brightened a dark day for assistant editor Daniel Kessel

Assistant editor Daniel Kessel

Today’s guest blogger is assistant editor Daniel Kessel.

My mom and I stood at the dessert table, platters of cookies, pies and cakes spread out before us. We needed something sweet–we were at the wake of a close family friend. The loss had blindsided everyone in my family. We sent bouquets of flowers, wishing there was something more we could do.

“Dan, look!” my mom whispered. She pointed to an empty cake box underneath the dessert table. “Maddalena’s Cheesecake,” the label read. Mom and I smiled at each other. Maddalena’s cheesecakes are well-known in the community, and seeing one on the table made for a bright spot, however small, on a dark day.

A Maddalena's cheesecakeIt’s not just because Maddalena’s cheesecakes are delicious that they have a special place in my mom’s heart. Her father–my grandfather–had worked as a professional chef all throughout his career, first in the Navy during World War II, and then at a country club in Whitehouse, New Jersey, where my family still lives.

During his stint at the club, my grandfather worked with a young man named Gene Maddalena, supervising him and helping him learn everything he’d need to become a great chef.

Gene later went on to create a catering business of his own–well-known for their fantastic cheesecakes. Every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas, my family orders from Maddalena’s, always saying a prayer for my late grandfather.

As Mom and I put a slice of cheesecake on our plates, a woman with dark hair carried another Maddalena’s box to the table. Mom looked up and tapped her on the shoulder.

“Janet Maddalena?” my mom asked. “It’s so good to see you here!”

Janet, Gene’s wife, explained that she was catering the event–in fact, she was related to the grieving family! Mom and I were floored–we’d had no idea about the family connection between our friend and the Maddalenas.

For the next 15 minutes, Janet entertained us with tales about running the family business with her two sons, who help with everything from baking to managing the company website and Facebook

Without doubt, we all would have preferred to reunite under different circumstances. But as I watched my mom and Janet catch up, a sense of awe overwhelmed me. I thought of my grandfather, who was with us in this moment, too. I felt blessed, and grateful, to catch a glimpse of the intricate ways our lives overlap–connections that not even death can erase.

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