THE LAST DINNER TABLE

her husband had a feeding tube the last ten years of his life

cancer of the larynx took away from him the ability to speak or eat

and tube feeding kept him going

***

the patient said she looked back on the years before cancer came

and remembered how

she was always busy being a wife and a mother

a farmer husband and five children kept her busy in the kitchen

and they always enjoyed their fellowship around the table

***

the day came when she set a full dinner table as she always had done

an abundance of riches

fried chicken and mashed potatoes

butterbeans and squash

sliced tomatoes and spring onions

bread-and-butter pickles

cornbread and sweet tea

chocolate cake and pecan pie

***

her husband walked into the kitchen and saw the spread

he knew he could not enjoy

and mouthed these words:

I could eat every bite of this

***

the patient said

her heart broke

and

that was the last time she laid out food as a spread

*****

How to say this without sounding tactless? This patient appeared to be just an ordinary elderly woman…small-boned, grizzled short hair, no makeup, plain of dress, quiet of demeanor. You’d see her sort pushing the buggy in the grocery store and then getting into a serviceable, old four-door car.

So what was special about this woman? Well, you’d just have to get to know her, but it didn’t take long being around her to become enamored with her spirit.

She was not particularly “depressed” at being in the hospital…she just accepted it as a part of life that the human body will fail us at times.

She had a dry wit about her that peeked out, once you got to know her. She didn’t let being in her early nineties take away her love of seeing a little humor in everyday life situations.

She had a love for her family, and they for her. Her children and in-laws were faithful “spend-the-nighters” in the hospital room and stayed during the long days also.

She had lived a plain, hard-working life as a farmer’s wife and mother of five children. What others might see as drudgery, she saw as blessings. Read Proverbs 31:10-31.

She had a delicacy of spirit and concern for others that we would all do well to emulate. Imagine all the joy she had for all those years preparing those delicious meals with vegetables from her own garden, laying it all out in all its abundance for her family to enjoy, and then realizing the sadness it caused her husband…that he could not eat it. And just like that, she quit doing what had been such a part of family life for so many years…the pleasure of seeing a beautiful home-cooked meal all laid out in all its glory.

It’s been over five years since the patient left the hospital, and I’ve wondered about her often.

My wonders were answered several months ago. Her obituary expressed the characteristics mentioned above and also stated something I didn’t know…that she had spent the last two years of her life in a nursing home where, the obituary declared, “she made many friends”. What an example of a pleasant attitude and good life until the very end at almost 100 years of age!!

This “ordinary elderly woman” was, in fact, extraordinary. She blessed us, and we loved her.

“Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

Matthew 25:21

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A PERSPECTIVE ON GRIEVING FOR AN ANIMAL VS GRIEVING FOR A HUMAN

DISCLAIMER: MRS. HATE LOVES DOGS

I love to cuddle them and scratch their ears and all those affectionate things that come naturally if you love animals. I grieve when they get hit by a car and die or when they age and their bodies fail them, just as we humans age and die.

However, what I DON’T love and what bothers me is when people put grieving for a pet right up there with grieving for a human.

And again, this opinion is coming from an animal lover.

There are way too many scenarios to expound upon, but here’s a few, with a compassionate viewpoint filtered through the lens of perspective.

You’re old and housebound, your family has all died out, even your children have pre-deceased you, and all you have left to love is a cat or a dog. Is this a sad situation? Yes. When that pet dies, will it be sad for the owner? Yes…very.

You’re a child, and you love your pet. A snake bites your pet, or maybe a car runs over your pet, and pet dies. Is this a sad, traumatic time for the child? Yes. Will the child always remember this first pet death and the void that followed? Probably.

So what’s the problem here? Why the hate, Mrs. Hate??

Look at these situations:

You’ve just been told your child…let’s say he or she is around eight…has cancer, and the prognosis for healing is not good. This eight year-old is old enough to know that death means death and leaving loved ones and leaving playing with friends and leaving a future. You, the parent, get the agony of explaining sickness and death to your precious child. How would you feel if you overheard someone talking about how sad they were that their dog or cat had died?

You’re pregnant, getting close to delivery time, and you find out that your highly-anticipated child has died in utero. Do you want to hear about someone grieving over their dead pet?

Your only child has been born with multiple birth defects and his life will be spent twisted and contorted in a wheelchair, with catheters and such attached, and his measured intellect will remain at a two-year age level. Do you really want to hear about your neighbor’s ongoing sadness over her dog who just had its leg amputated?

You’re a loving family, and the full-of-life daughter and sister has been kidnapped, tortured, and killed. Her body is found desecrated and rotting in a garbage dumpster. Can you empathize with the person who’s talking about how much they miss their dog or cat who just died of old age?

People, put all this into perspective. Love your pet, be thankful for the joy and happiness it brings, but please don’t over-dramatize pet tragedies vs. human tragedies.

And, if you lack the insight to see the difference between grieving for a pet vs. grieving for a human and putting that grief IN PERSPECTIVE, at least don’t go on and on about your pet sadness in the presence of people who have human sadness going on in their lives.

I know if I had one of the human tragedies listed above, or anything of a comparable nature, it would be hard for me to keep a civil tongue in my head if I heard someone going on and on about their pet’s health problems.

 


HOW MATT MADE BISCUITS, CIRCA 1962

Mrs. Hate looooves biscuits. You can’t say it any plainer than that.

How do I love thee, O Biscuit?

Let me count the ways:

  • biscuits with butter
  • biscuits with blackberry jelly
  • biscuits with crabapple jelly
  • biscuits with fig preserves
  • biscuits with honey
  • biscuits with Flowing Gold syrup
  • biscuits with pan sausage
  • biscuits with country ham
  • biscuits leftover, halved, buttered, and put under broiler the next day

And then, of course, you’ve got throwing in some stale biscuits when making your dressing at Thanksgiving and Christmas AND, every now and then, playing around with turning them into a sort of biscuit pudding.

Picture a small country town in South Georgia circa 1962. There’s a farm—not too big, not too little—with a maid (who now would be referred to as a housekeeper)—not too skinny, not too fat (and this description is important for reasons discussed later)—wearing a white uniform. There will never be a better biscuit maker than Matt, point said.

Mrs. Hate remembers Matt as representing security, stability, love, kindness—all attributes we all need to possess, and our possession begins by having them demonstrated to us by others. Matt was a part of the nascency of these attributes in Mrs. Hate; her talent in biscuit-making was perfection, but her kindness and love superseded even biscuits. Love and kindness are eternal, the eating of a biscuit temporal. But the memories of those biscuits and the loving hands that made them…goodness gracious, what memories…

Now, as all good cooks have the talent of making things looks easy (in other words, things you THINK are so simple, but in reality there’s a knack to it so that sometimes you end up banging your head against the wall and say “why can’t I just COOK this and make it turn out right? there’s ONLY THREE LITTLE INGREDIENTS!!! Mrs. Hate’s getting worked up a little here in case you couldn’t tell), Matt didn’t disappoint in making biscuit-making look easy.

So what are the three little ingredients for Matt’s biscuits that can make strong women cry—and then headbutt the wall??

 

  • White Lily self-rising flour

  • Crisco shortening

  • buttermilk (whole please, not fat-free)

 

 

alas…no image of Land O’Lakes whole buttermilk could be found,

so just imagine your local grocery store’s buttermilk pictured here

**sidebar** of course, it’s much more traditional to use plain (all-purpose) White Lily flour and add your baking powder and salt, but MY MAMA said it was okay to use self-rising flour, and MY MAMA was as Old South scratch cooking as there could be.  R.I.P. Mimi—we still talk about you, dream about you, wonder about you, analyze you.

So, back to the biscuits.

Now Matt could make biscuits without measuring…of course!!  (headbutt time on the coolness and savoir faire of no measuring)

She would pour the flour into a what we called dough bowl, which was an old (again, of course!! wasn’t EVERYTHING old in Mrs. Hate’s childhood??) wooden bowl with dimpled gouges here and there. The gouges sure didn’t come from biscuit making, because all of that’s “by hand”, but probably just came from handling and slamming the bowl around when throwing it in the cabinet. (“Throwing” is showing up more and more in these little stories—one would think there was a lot of VIOLENCE and PASSION and SOUTHERN GOTHIC-NESS going on in the household, but no, it was just a busy little place.)

So, back to the biscuits for the second time.

**second sidebar** the buttermilk should be cold (don’t get it out beforehand to come to room temperature like you would generally do with cake-making), and IMPORTANT NOTE:  always keep the Crisco in the refrigerator…you want it to be cold for biscuit making, and refrigeration also keeps it from going a little rancid.

Spoon in some Crisco (shortening) and get those little fingertips working. You want to just riffff the Crisco into the flour with a delicate touch of thumb rolling the Crisco over the fingertips, primarily the index and middle fingers, with a little ring finger action for extra riffff.  Little finger not really necessary. Think on that statement.

You will have MAGICALLY known how much Crisco was necessary. If your magic levels are low on biscuit-making day, let’s say a couple of big spoonfuls (a little over 1/4 cup) of Crisco—the size of spoon you dish up vegetables with—and the flour (backtracking here) should be maybe 2 cups would do’ya.

And, if you’re a voracious, insatiable, manic, lunatic-crazy cookbook reader, surely you will have read all through the years about “work the shortening into the flour mixture until there are pea-sized lumps, but they don’t have to all be exactly the same size, you need some variation for flakiness blahblahblah”. All that is true. Plus (and often you will read this) you don’t want to overwork the dough; toughness results. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but toughness should not be in the heart of a biscuit.

Okay, and moving right along…

Get the buttermilk out of the refrigerator (whole, remember—the thought of low-fat buttermilk makes Mrs. Hate hate), shake it up good (so all the yummy fat is distributed), and pour in enough (about 1 cup) to make a slightly sticky dough when stirred with a fork (there’s that magic fork again which, after having tended to the hoecakes, is now tending to the biscuits—that fork earns its keep in this kitchen!!). And some folks even have special forks treasured for biscuit making and other cooking odds and ends…Mrs. Hate has HEARD of this and even seen a PICTURE of this…and the fork just looks like an old broke-down fork with maybe a tine or two missing. Will wonders never cease!!

So, you’ve stirred the dough, it’s sticky (searching for comparable analogy here—is that a somewhat redundant pairing of words?—and failing miserably), and now time to get a little creative like you did with the hoecakes.

Get the dough board out (not bowl), flour it with a handful of flour and swoop it around on the board, throw the dough on the board, dust your hands with flour, and lightly, gently knead for a few turns. So pretty when it’s done right. It goes from a sticky and slighty damp-ish looking mess to an immaculately smooth ball with a dull flour finish, if you do it right…just saying. Just thinking about that smooth dough ball takes Mrs. Hate back back back to that time in her childhood when she and her parents and her sisters and Matt were healthy and energetic and young.

Rolling pin or pat out the dough?? Let’s end up with a rolling pin, with a little flour dusted on it. Put your dough ball on the floured board, pat it with your hands a little to get the thing started, then lightly press/roll with pin.

The dough needs to be in the neighborhood of ⅜” thick. You can go a little more or less thick depending on your vision of a perfect biscuit. Personal preference is perfectly proper here (looove that alliteration…if any reader has seen Brideshead Revisited—the one with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews—the Anthony Blanche character was a m-m-m-master of stuttering alliteration).

Cut the biscuits out. A 2-3” biscuit cutter is recommended. However, in a pinch, one could take an old (Good Lordamercy, were Mrs. Hate’s folks packrats with old stuff  or WHAT?!?!?!?) jelly jar, place it on the dough, and use a sharp knife tip to cut around the jar rim. Eureka!!! Biscuits!!!

Place the biscuits—all touching, please, all cozy and nestled next to each other—in a cast iron SKILLET, not a SPIDER (see hoecake post). Or, entirely okay to put the biscuits in old aluminum pie plate or even a 9×13 Pyrex dish. Some people like to spritz the pie plate or Pyrex with a little Pam—hmmmm on that, as Matt sure didn’t use any of that Pam stuff back in 1962. And please be advised here that a biscuit pan is kind of whatever, but cornbread is really only made in an iron skillet. Sometimes at holidays a Pyrex dish is okay for cornbread because the sad truth is it’s going to be crumbled up for dressing anyway, but for eating cornbread on its own, you really, really need an iron skillet to develop the crispy cornbread crust…another post, another day, and another alliteration.

You’re looking at probably a dozen biscuits here, maybe fewer. Just depending.

An oven temperature of 500 degrees sounds mighty high, but it works.

And before oven-time, some people melt some butter in a bowl (confession: microwave) and use fingertips (why bother using a brush?) to slide some butter around on the top of raw biscuit.

Handy Tip:  it would behoove you to always have some Land O’Lakes butter on hand, and unsalted is really all you need—most of the time, like 99.9% of the time.


 

Almost done, you hanging-in-there readers you!!

Take the biscuits out when golden-y brown on top (ten-ish minutes or so).

And as good as they are same-morning/dinner/supper made, they are equally as delicious next morning prepared this way:

Split them, put a little softened butter on cut surface, put on cookie sheet with tin foil on it (or you can get all free-spirited and just put them on whatever…skillet, cookie sheet, old roasting tray, it’s okay), have that oven on BROIL, place in oven with door kind of cracked open and check verrrry frequently—it won’t take long. You just want them lightly toastified with a little crunchy thing going on. Heavenly.

And why was it important to describe Matt as being not too skinny and not too fat??

Matt, that precious angel on Earth, developed stomach cancer. Mrs. Hate’s mother and Matt were very close, and MHM (trying out this acronym here for brevity and typing efficiency) talked so long and so hard to Matt about going to the doctor, but Matt was a Jehovah’s Witness, and there are lots of Witness beliefs about medical procedures, blood transfusions, etcetera. No matter how much Matt loved MHM, she just couldn’t bring herself to go to the doctor.

So the wonderful Matt got cancer-skinny, but with a swollen stomach. In the saddest of ways, she was both too skinny and too fat. However, she was still perfect, of course, because love and kindness exist no matter our physical condition.

HATE POINT:  canned biscuits

LOVE POINT:  Matt and the memory of her sweet face