A little over a year ago, I reconnected with an uncle-in-law that I used to see often as a child. He is now 82 years old, having had his most recent birthday on New Year’s Eve.
He was married to my Aunt, who passed away a few months before I graduated from college. Since I was the first person in my family to earn a Bachelor’s degree, walking across the stage and knowing she wasn’t in the crowd was both exhilarating and heartbreaking, at the same time.
He has outlived her for many years now, and thanks to a mismailed letter from the good ole United States government, I have reconnected with him.
I go to his house, on average about 3 times a week. I help him with his finances; I run errands. I now know that he gets a kick out of it when I bring him family sized bags of Ricola lozenges. I introduced him to Ricola lozenges, and when I first gave him a bag, I sang the all too familiar REEE COOO LAAAA jingle from the commercial. Now, sometimes he sings it back to me when I show up with a new bag.
He uses a lot of cough drops because, among other health ailments, he has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, better known as COPD. It prevents him from breathing while sometimes keeping him occupied with a lingering cough.
He doesn’t venture out of his house much anymore. And even though he has a cable subscription, he enjoys watching the same black and white westerns that I imagine he watched as a child and much younger man.
And even though his body is failing him, his mind, and his awareness of his long life and long suffering, are still very strong. Most days, his mind is clearer and stronger than mine is or has ever been. He remembers street names, people names, events, and lots of other things from my childhood that I have long forgotten or perhaps never even knew.
Today, I went to visit him. I took him two bags of the family sized Ricola lozenges and two stacks of low sodium Pringles chips. He was delighted to have the surprises. I also took him homemade biscuits and white gravy with sausage, both of which I made this morning. I also took him two bowls of homemade stew, which I made two nights ago. Everything turned out great and I think he enjoys and understands the value of homecooked food more than an average person.
You see, my now elderly Uncle was married to the most prolific cook in our family. My Aunt cooked EVERYTHING and all the time. I have heard stories of her banging around pots in the morning, and when she was discovered cooking at those wee hours, she simply said, “You want something to eat?’
She was simply amazing.
I think of her every time I cook something for my uncle. I actually think of her in two ways: one, an impossible way, when I ask myself, “How would she have made this?” Alas, that question is impossible because I generally have no idea. Second, a bittersweet way, when I think to myself, “I think she would approve” when something turns out good.
I know that nowadays, a lot of people eat out for almost every meal. I totally understand; I picked up a “chicken box” (as my mom calls them) from Church’s Chicken on the way home, not wanting to bang around my own pots and spend more time in the kitchen today. I also have another takeout box in my refrigerator right now.
But, to me, there’s something very special about home cooked food, especially when someone who cares about you makes it. When I make food for people, it is always with great care and hope that it will be really, really great. No, I do not always make the best tasting food, and certainly it is not all restaurant quality, but I have never served something to other people that I just flopped together, carelessly. I like to reserve my lower skillset for myself, on those nights when I feel self critical about dialing up a delivery man to bring me some grub.
Today, when I took my uncle the food, he went on and on about it. In my work of getting to know myself better and understanding why I am the way I am, I have recognized that I love the admiration of an eater.
Oh, your cake looks beautiful! (*blushes!*)
Oh, your cake is moist! (*double blushes!*)
Oh, this cake is better than box / store bought! (*oh, gosh, don’t kill me with your kind words!*)
After he thanked me for the food and assured me that he knew it was delicious before even trying it, we talked about the city where we both used to live, many years ago, my hometown. Today, he didn’t mention his own death, but he usually does. Today is less somber; today he is excited to learn about my new client. And he told me another story about my father, whom I never knew personally, and how yes, I am like him in a lot of ways in terms of my personality, but no, I shouldn’t worry about it because even though my father had a well-deserved reputation of being a cold, rule following asshole, I am still a good person, even if I have some of those traits. Or, even if I have all of those traits.
I leave there feeling good about myself. I feel appreciated. I feel like I did a good thing, hanging out with my uncle for a few hours, and taking him food that might somewhat resemble the food he used to eat from my aunt’s magical hands.
If you have time tomorrow, hang out with someone who will truly enjoy your company. I suggest picking someone ages 0-10 or 60-the rest. I’m sure you won’t regret it.
Until tomorrow, my friends…