As the Duck Inn restaurant served its 11th annual all-you-can-eat Thanksgiving dinner Thursday, owner Lela Rosin said she’s thankful for one specific thing: the Duck’s kitchen manager Beau Jamison, who received a cancer diagnosis 13 months ago.
Jamison has been leading the Duck’s traditional Thanksgiving meal since it began in 2006. Last year’s Thanksgiving —a month after his diagnosis in October 2016 and a month before the death of his wife in December — was no exception. This year Jamison led the meal cancer-free after getting a clean diagnosis in August.
Jamison credited the kindness of his coworkers and the Duck’s owners with helping him through the year, saying they had saved his life. He described the kitchen crew — most of whom have been working together for about five years, he said — as having “the right mix of goofiness and hard work.”
“It helps lower the tension,” he said.
The work itself also motivates him.
“Even after 12 years, I love my job,” Jamison said. “I come here every day, happy. I’m probably a weirdo for that. I just love to work — my family thinks I’m weird, too, because that’s my favorite thing to do — go to work … I like the challenge of being able to perform. And you get instant gratification in the feedback. ‘Oh, that was great.’”
This year has been a double test of Jamison’s cheer and work ethic: in addition to his diagnosis with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a form of cancer affecting blood cells, his wife’s death left him a single father to their 12-year-old son.
“I worked the whole time, didn’t take any time off,” he said.
Though kitchen work requires occasional heavy lifting — a pot of soup or bag of ingredients — Jamison said it’s mostly a matter of mental concentration.
“It’s memory and timing,” he said. “And you’ve got multiple tasks, too, so it’s not just memory and timing on one thing — you’ve got to spread that over 22 tickets.”
Jamison scheduled the chemotherapy treatments he needed every two weeks for his days off, which fell in the middle of the week. The steroids given during the treatment to strengthen his immune system helped him through the following days, but by the weekend — the restaurant’s busiest time — the effect would be starting to lapse.
“My guys would come in and relieve me early, so I didn’t have to put as much time into it,” Jamison said. “…I’d go home from here and go straight to bed, and my son would help me out there. I think it took the biggest toll on him … We’re hoping we have a good summer this year, because we’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”
Jamison has had his last chemo treatment. The chemotherapy port remains implanted in his chest, and will stay for five years just in case, he said.
“I didn’t think it was going to take me down, no matter what the diagnosis was,” Jamison said. “I always believed I was going to kick butt. And I did. I was really happy to find out I was right. I did beat it.”
This Thanksgiving, the work in the kitchen remained moderate but constant.
“It ends up being one of our busiest days,” Rosin said. “Sometimes if someone comes in and they can’t afford it, we’ll just let them have dinner. And if any of our employees work it, then their families can come in and have dinner with them for free. Because sometimes it’s a sacrifice for them to work on that holiday, and we want to reward them and let them still be with their families.”
The menu has stayed the same, featuring the traditional foods of the day: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn-on-the-cob, green-bean casserole, and fruit and pumpkin pie with or without cream.
“A lot of people who don’t have family, it gives them some place to go,” Jamison said. “There’s people around. They can hear warm laughter and enjoy a good meal. Nobody’s going to cook a big old feast for one person, themselves. But I like that we offer that to the public. Some of our customers have been with us since the beginning.”
While discussing the best creams for making homemade whipped cream and pausing to taste-test a soup Jamison was working on, the cooks and waiters kept the pies moving in and out of the ovens, full plates going into the restaurant, and empty ones returning to the kitchen. Assistant manager Pete DiCarlo said they were well-prepared for the concentration of diners who usually arrive for Thanksgiving around 2 p.m. DiCarlo’s relief would be arriving around that time, and he’d leave to spend the rest of the day with his family.
“We might come back here,” DiCarlo said.
As for Jamison, he planned to leave around 1 p.m., but might stay as late as 5 p.m. if needed. He also planned to bring his son and girlfriend back to the Duck to eat.
Throughout the day Jamison estimated his crew would serve about 10 gallons of gravy. He’d cooked 12 turkeys, equalling about 240 pounds of meat. Of that, Jamison estimated that there’d only be about 30–40 pounds of leftovers at the end of the day, which would go home with staff members or be put into soup.
The night before Jamison’s dog had escaped and roamed the neighborhood until he finally found it close to midnight — around the time he came in to start slow-roasting the turkeys. At 6 a.m. he arrived to begin the day, starting with casseroles.
“Living the dream!” he said. “I’ve got enough energy to live my dream, to live your dream, whatever. For anything.”
Reach Ben Boettger at firstname.lastname@example.org.