Editor's Letter • Spring 2023 • Vol 2 | Iss 1 • pg 7
Each spring for as long as I can remember my dad would go to Gilbertie’s nursery in Westport, CT to buy tomato plants for his garden. To my dad, growing tomatoes wasn’t just a pastime, it was an art and a very serious one at that. He said the best plants were at Gilbertie’s, and it’s true they were always twice the size of other plants and produced delicious tomatoes. Some years my dad and my mom would drive up to CT from their home in our town in NJ. Other years it was a family affair. During the pandemic, a combination of safety and no longer being able to drive kept him closer to home, but he never stopped longing for those tomato plants. He cared for them like his own children—meticulously pruning and feeding them, and devising complicated systems to stave off chipmunks and deer.
Last spring, I drove to CT with my dad and my mom. It was a different kind of trip—they are older and didn’t have as much stamina—but my dad and I dragged the flatbed cart from greenhouse to greenhouse, and stocked up on tomatoes, basil, and asparagus; and marigolds to keep the pests away. As we stood in one of the greenhouses, my dad turned to me and said, “I just want you to know how proud I am of you. It takes a lot of courage to realize that you’re heading in a direction that’s not working for you and to do something about it. I really admire you for that.” My dad was referring to my sobriety—at that point a year and a half in—and, on a smaller scale to my decision to start this magazine, which was just starting to take form. He was never one to hold back on compliments, but this one felt particularly poignant. His own father struggled with, and eventually succumbed to, alcohol addiction, and my father spent the rest of his own life as a doctor helping others to live better lives. He was a man who said what he meant and his compliment brought me to tears that day—a feeling of deep love and gratitude coupled with a touch of relief, at feeling so seen. I still cry when I think of it.
Sam Pietrandrea at Gilbertie's Nursery in Westport CT
As this second issue of AFTER Magazine went into full production mode last month, my father passed away. He was hearty and full of life at Christmas, but succumbed to a brief illness in the eight weeks that followed. It has been devastating to say the least. During his illness, among the many caring things that people said and did for us, more than one person also curiously asked whether the stress and sadness of the situation had affected my sobriety.
Here’s the whole truth:
When experiencing grief it seems the general expectation—voiced to me more than once—is that you will, like everyone else, deal with it with alcohol. It’s almost a universally accepted, knee-jerk reaction when things are awful, and believe me, I get it. Why wouldn’t we want to try to ease the pain for a bit?
Late one night in the hospital room, out of nowhere, the thought entered my head: “Maybe I should go home and have a drink or two.” It was more of an intrusive thought than a craving, but the desire to ease the sadness was so great that for a split second it made sense. That little voice appeared with a solution I would have turned to in the past. I pondered it for a moment, almost as an unwitting observer. Thankfully the thought went away as quickly as it came—long before I was anywhere near home. More signicantly though, that minute of pondering reminded me of my most profound truth, which is this: After missing so much, for so long, due to the unwanted effects of drinking alcohol to deal with other sadnesses, I have an unwavering gratitude that I get to be here and be present for all of this—the good AND the bad.
I’m grateful that I was fully present that day in Connecticut—not tired, not hungover, not wondering if I would have a martini with our dinner. All of it. Present and happy to pick out tomato plants in the warm sun. Happy to enjoy lobster rolls and mocktails at Rizzuto’s in Westport with my parents afterwards. I’m grateful that I was so fully present at our last couple of Christmases together. I’m grateful that I was present through his illness, not distracted or fuzzy-headed. And I’m grateful that I was present to honor him when he passed.
Lest it sound too good, I’ll tell you this too: It’s been rough—like really rough—sitting with all of the feelings that have come up through all of this. I am overwhelmed with tears, sadness, anger, guilt, denial—all of it—on a daily basis. When I feel like choking it all back I remind myself to take a breath and allow myself to feel it. I try to remember that this is part of the human experience—albeit a terrible, horribly sad part of it—and that I’m lucky I get to be part of that, hard as it is.
Most importantly, I remind myself that my dad was proud of me for many reasons, including my sobriety. He got to see the first issue of this magazine and was excited about it. He repeatedly said it reminded him of Gourmet magazine which he considered the pinnacle of quality. I will always treasure the moment we spent in that greenhouse together, and I want you to know, if you are someone who is working to turn things around in your life, no matter what that path looks like right now, my dad is proud of you too.
With love and gratitude,
Nicole Pietrandrea Hough
Founder and Editor-in-Chief, AFTER Magazine
Mocktails at Rizzuto's, Westport CT
Gilbertie’s Herbs and Garden Center
7 Sylvan Lane
Westport, CT 06880
Rizzuto’s Oyster Bar and Restaurant
540 Riverside Avenue
Westport, CT 06880