Not much in this world mattered more to Fred Wright than his garden, and the homemade salsa that came from it.
Chris Minich, his beloved life partner did. I believe that St. James did. But beyond that, I’m not sure there was anything that Fred took more pride and more joy in than his pepper plants, his tomatoes, his onions – and the secret spice mixture that made Fred Wright Salsa some of the finest salsa in the land.
Fred spent nearly all day in our parish kitchen on Friday, teaching a ragtag band of would-be salsa makers how to do it the right way. Fred was a perfectionist, and he expected the tomatoes to be sliced just so, the peppers to be diced just so, the jars to be handled just so. It’s a time-consuming process, and when we ran out of time well before we ran out of peppers, Fred determined to come back the next day, to complete the job.
He and Chris spent much of Saturday back in our kitchen, engaged in the tedious task. Even then they didn’t use up all the bounty of Fred’s prodigious garden. Fred’s plan was to preserve another batch of salsa on Sunday, after church.
But that was not to happen. Fred died in his sleep early Sunday morning, apparently of a heart attack. On Sunday afternoon, Chris and her sister, Holly, were busy in the kitchen, preserving jars of salsa in between tears and fondly-told tales of Fred’s life. It’s what he would have wanted them to do. He hated to see a pepper go to waste.
Fred was just over a month shy of his 60thbirthday. And while his death came much too soon, we can all take comfort in knowing that at last Fred’s pain is gone. He had struggled with overwhelming health problems ever since a construction-related accident in his early twenties crushed much of his body. In the following years, he endured 27 surgeries, including five on his back and two on his brain.
A brain abscess in 2014 left him in a coma for five weeks, and he had a difficult time coming back. He grew progressively weaker, and struggled with chronic severe pain. Chris reports that last year, they spent Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day in the hospital. “We were so happy to get through Easter without a trip to the emergency room,” she said.
During his most recent hospitalization, Fred and I talked at length about his love for Chris, and his love for our parish. He recalled with such fondness the time he and Deacon Bobbie Girardin had stayed up half the night preserving jars of salsa for use at St. James. He said then that he wished he could do that again. I told him we should plan on it. But I confess, I never reallyexpected it to happen.
Which just goes to show that no one should ever have counted Fred Wright out. He was a survivor who more than once battled back from the brink of death. Fred called me two weeks ago and said his salsa garden was coming in fine and dandy, and when did I want to make some salsa?
We decided to do it sooner rather than later, and I am so very grateful that we did not delay. Fred died doing what he loved, and I can’t help but think that the heavenly feast that awaits each of us will include some of Fred’s salsa.
Thank you, Fred, for all you shared with the people of St. James. You presence among us was a gift, and your salsa was but a token of the love you bore for us. Rest in peace, dear friend. Rest in peace.