I learned to cook by watching you cook. On my own I tried recipes from the BETTY CROCKER JUNIOR COOKBOOK, especially the cookies and salads, but mostly I picked vegetables from our garden and then worked with you in the kitchen. If Dad called at the last minute, saying he was bringing customers home from the dealership for lunch, my job was to reset the dining room table with the good dishes, and then help chop, slice or stir more ingredients for another salad while you whipped up a batch of biscuits. You were the supreme impromptu chef, able to concoct delicious chicken dishes that would feed many extra mouths. You often told me that people like to sit down to a meal together and talk and relax. You taught me by example that the most important ingredients of a meal are a welcoming smile and a warm greeting.
September 27, 2006, I made breakfast for you and Dad: “Eggs A’La Goldenrod.” (see favorite recipes) While I heated butter, flour and milk together on the stove, you stood beside me and peeled hard boiled eggs. Dad sat at the table watching us, smiling as the buttery mixture bubbled in the pan and bread turned brown in the toaster. He happily waited for one of his favorite special breakfasts.
It was the last meal you and Dad ate in the house you’d called home since 1952.
After breakfast, the three of us took a long ride. Dad became agitated, saying over and over that he should be driving. You comforted him by pointing out the changing leaves and the ducks paddling on the pond in the park. At the end of our ride, instead of returning home, we drove out to your new assisted living apartment at Presbyterian Village. Dad wandered around, peeking in the closets, checking out the bathroom and the laundry, sighing a lot as he got more and more upset. He wanted to go home.
You sat down with him and read the weekly menus aloud, commenting on the many choices. I hung pictures and arranged your favorite pieces of furniture the movers had brought from the house while we were on our ride. We had to go out to eat dinner because I hadn’t yet learned that the apartment stove and oven had the safety switches turned off. We stayed up long past the usual bedtime, eating popcorn and apple slices in front of the television. You and I reminded Dad of all the people and memories in the pictures on the walls and the bookshelves. Finally we went to bed. It was the first night in your new apartment, and when I checked on you during the night, you were snuggled up against Dad, your arms holding him securely. The next morning we had cereal and toast, to continue the normal pattern Dad expected at home.
August 6, 2011: Other than bacon and eggs for breakfast, it’s only by trial and error that your caregivers and I find food you really like to eat. Today, pushing a cart through the frozen foods in the local grocery store, by accident I strike gold. Spaghetti with meat sauce, homemade by Stouffer’s. In the dairy section lemon yogurt parfait cups look good, so I buy two. I come back to buy more before the day is over, smiling the entire time because you gobbled up the parfaits like a happy child.
Things are different now. You don’t fix the food, your preferences change from meal to meal, and it’s just the two of us eating dinner in your apartment. But we still have a good time, Mom. When I, as the cook, give you a warm greeting–”Hey, Mom, this is going to be delicious!”–you smile and say, “That’s right darlin’,” and we sit down together, talk and relax.
I love you, Mom.