You’d be surprised what hard work making chicken salad is.

I realize that seems to be an odd non-sequitur, but follow me, folks.

For more than 12 years, my family has been one of four owners of the Cottage Cafe, the downtown sandwich eatery open only for lunch and known for its crowd-pleasing chicken salad.

And, for eight of those years, the chicken salad so many of you have come to love has been made by one woman – Ms. Patricia Hamby.

She got up almost every morning, came to work and ground down the chicken, added the mayo and mixed in the grapes and almonds -all by hand, all by herself.

And not just small batches, mind you – pounds upon pounds upon pounds, day after day. She got to where she could tell if a batch was right not by looks, but by the way it felt when as she mixed it with her glove-clad hands.

She came to us the summer of 2004, straight from the bakery at Winn Dixie, where we knew her as the kind, helpful bakery lady who made our croissants and kaiser rolls.

She hit the ground running and was a quick learner, mainly because she soon discovered that doing the opposite of whatever I said would be the best way to go.

She arrived early, stayed late and even came in on weekends, just to make sure the job was done both right and up to her standard – which are two separate and unequal things.

She was the force that kept the restaurant going, making sure spoons and knives were stocked, checking and rechecking bank deposits and doing only God knows what else to make sure everything was present and accounted for at all times.

And, dear readers, she had to do all of this while putting up with me. No easy task, indeed.

Ms. Pat, thank you for everything you’ve done for the “Cottage Walk family.”

I’m sure we annoyed you at times (me especially), but I hope you know how much love and respect each and every one of us have for you.

I grew up working with you in that tiny cafe, learning how to mix and mingle with customers, learning the proper portions for the chicken salad plate, and, most importantly, learning that the most important things in life are faith and family – two things that I know Pat Hamby will always hold dear.

I’ll treasure the memories I have with you forever, and I hope you continue to be a frequent visitor and guest whenever you choose to venture this way.

Enjoy your retirement, though I know you’ll probably be busier now than you ever were here in downtown.

There’s grandbabies to take care of, remodeling to be done, and Mr. Van will undoubtedly need supervision – he’s been tinkering away by himself all day for far too long, and that’s never good.

We love you, Ms. Pat. Be well.

I salute and thank you, Ms. Pat – nay, Patricia, Queen of Chicken Salad.

She’s a sight better than your average “chicken salad chick” and she always will be.

God bless and keep you, madame.

Though your reign has ended, your legend never will.