It had been the week Hospice came to call. I couldn’t kick the cold that was settling into my chest. I’d given it to Todd and feared passing it on to Mom and Dad. All I needed, I thought, was a day in bed and was grateful it was Saturday. Shuffling up and down the wooden stairs, back and forth across the chilly hardwood floor—bed to kitchen, kitchen to bed—I didn’t get dressed until 3:00.
Mom had just clipped some recipes from the paper that week and given them to me thinking Dad would like them. One was for Salisbury steak made with hamburger, onions and gravy, and the second was a pasta dish with shrimp. Getting enough calories into Dad, with food he could swallow easily, was a priority for her these days. She had always loved cooking for family and friends, trying new recipes, entertaining, but those days were gone and it was hard for her to accept. I tried to make up for it by searching for any comfort food recipe I could find—showing up at their condo with stews and casseroles. It made me happy to watch my parents appetites suddenly appear with good smells, candlelight, music and laughter.
On this Saturday afternoon, I was glad to find hamburger and chicken in the freezer. I made the Salisbury steak recipe and put together a pot of chicken soup. By 4:45 I was making mashed potatoes. It was already dark and the day had slipped away. I fought off the melancholy sneaking in. I needed to see Mom and Dad and know they were alright. They weren’t calling as often lately—I was the initiator now and I didn’t like it.
“Todd, I need to take this food to Mom and Dad’s. I want to get it there by dinnertime,” I said, knowing this wasn’t his plan for Saturday night.
“I’ll get the car out. We can go to the movie store after we drop it off. What do you think—popcorn night?” He asked.
“Awww, sounds perfect.” Could I love him more? He was there for me. My lonely feeling slipped away..
In less than 15 minutes we were in the car. “Hi Mom,” I said on my cell with a deep voice. “We’re just on our way out to run some errands and I’ve made a little extra food.” I didn’t want her to think I was worried about them. “We won’t stay because I don’t want you to get my bug.”
“Oh, Debs—we’re all set to make chili. We’re going to make it together and watch the game.” I had a sudden flash of normalcy. It didn’t take much for me to convince myself the cancer was gone and everything would go back to normal.
“Well, now you don’t have to make it.” I said as I held the dish with the hot Salisbury steaks wrapped in towels on my lap, and balanced the pot of chicken soup between my feet. There was a long pause. “Or…you can have this tomorrow. See you in a minute.” I said goodbye and clicked my phone off.
“Can you believe that?” I said to Todd. “They’re making chili and watching the game. Everything seems fine.”
The condo was warm and cheery as always when we entered. Mom was busy chopping green peppers and onions but holding her arm as she chopped in a sort of make-shift sling. I could tell she was in pain but she gave us a winning smile.
“Are you in a hurry? I just need a little help chopping these vegetables. I can’t seem to make my hand work,” Catching my cold was the least of her worries.
“Sure, I can help,” my voice was crackly, I struggled not to cough and put the food I had prepared in the refrigerator. Todd settled into a chair in the living room in front of the TV with his coat on.
“Where’s Dad?” I asked.
“He’s tired. He was at the store for two hours!” Her expression suddenly changed with concern. “I’m worried about him. It took him all that time to find the food on my list and he got the wrong things. Luckily, I had some extra beans. He got all small cans and the wrong tomatoes.
“Can you stir the hamburger, Debs?”
I grabbed a hot pad which gave a little pop as the slightly worn and frayed edge got singed by the gas flame.
“Don’t burn my kitchen down!” Mom said as she walked out one end of the kitchen and Dad walked in the other, fresh from a shower.
“You’re doing my job!” He said, giving me a big hug.
“You chop vegetables, Dad. I’ll finish the meat and open cans.”
“Okay. I had a hard time finding everything on your Mom’s list.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out the list, unfolded the paper with the tiny, neatly scripted writing on it and gave it to me. I could barely read it myself and thought how my parents fit more words on a piece of paper than anyone I have ever seen. They never waste anything.
“That’s quite a list Dad and the store is really big. If you don’t know where things are that would take a while. I think you did great.”
Once the chili was assembled, I went to find Mom. Passing the living room I noticed Todd was out cold–head back, mouth open. The movie and popcorn might have to wait until tomorrow night.
Mom was sitting on the edge of her bed doing a crossword puzzle. She looked up at me—I’ll never forget how bright and innocent her eyes looked. I smiled. My porcelain doll, I thought–so delicate and so beautiful you’d never know her body was ridden with pain. I leaned over and gave her a kiss, told her I loved her and would see her tomorrow, then went to wake up Todd.