“Pinot Noir sucks,” he said.
“Wow. How dare you,” I said. “Get out of my store,” I said, pointing toward the exit door.
This was one of the first exchanges between Kris and me. What followed was over two years’ worth of fun, friendly banter, fueled by a mutual sense of humor and my desire to change his mind about Pinot Noir.
Kris and his wife Connie became regular customers of mine. It was only a couple trips before he walked into the store, and sheepishly admitted he had been wrong about Pinot. Belle Glos did the trick. “I knew it!” I had said, beaming. I revelled in being right, as usual, and we became fast friends. We talked about wine, spirits, family, sports, hobbies, and neighborhoods. I helped them shop for several parties and nearly every holiday. Their smiles and conversations always brightened my day and I like to think I did the same for them.
Over time, Connie and Kris learned to trust me infallibly with wine choices. I remember the first time I forced dry rosé on them, skeptics to the core. Like most, they became converts immediately. We frequently chatted about vodkas and licqueurs, too. In December, they saw my eyes light up when Kris mentioned his homemade amaretto. I mentioned casually it was my favorite after dinner drink. Sure enough, just before Christmas he delivered a bottle for me, which comforted me on many a cold evening. It was one of the better, most thoughtful gifts I have received in recent memory. I can still smell and taste that delicious almondy goodness. Later that winter, the family came in shopping and regaled several interesting tales of their son’s 21st birthday party in Vegas. Needless to say I got to know him, too. I remember one instance they all caught me with my coat on, preparing to leave for the day. I apologized that I had to run out and introduced them to a colleague who could assist them. Somehow, instead, thirty minutes later their cart was full and my belly ached from laughter. Helping Kris and Connie shop never felt like work, and since I transferred locations, they are among the folks I have missed the most.
Shortly after that visit, I learned that Kris had passed away suddenly. When I stopped at his wake to give Connie and the kids my condolences, I was starkly reminded that life is short and opportunities for friendships don’t come around often. I meet thousands of people a year, and I try to help them all; but only a special few let me into their lives such as they had. I miss Kris immensely, not just for his delicious homemade liqueurs, but also his jokes, his way of putting people at ease, his demonstrative, genuine love for his family. He was a great man. To say we were close would be an exaggeration; but he made an impression on me that will last a lifetime.
RIP Kris Zak. 1966-2012.