Waldorf salad is another one of those things that can just be kind of tossed all together according to the taste buds of the cook. And if you’re a really sweet, kind cook, you will take into consideration your family’s/guests’ taste buds also.
But what if the item to be served is not a matter of taste so much as it is texture??
This very thing has happened in Mrs. Hate’s family—a texture issue brought to the forefront by none other than her son-in-law.
Waldorf salad showed up on the dinner table on a fairly regular basis when I was growing up. Here’re the ingredients:
- apples (your preference of a tasty, crisp eating apple…back then apples were generally of the Red Delicious persuasion)
- mayonnaise (used to use Kraft until they completely lost their cool AND their mojo when they changed the recipe several years ago..I HATED that little corporate decision (ridiculous), but rallied and discovered Duke’s mayonnaise…really quite good)
- celery, diced
- pecans, diced
- marshmallows (why not use miniature)
And here’s how to put it all together!!
Peel or don’t peel your apples and cut in small chunks.
Add all other ingredients to your liking and proportion.
This must be the shortest Mrs. Hate recipe yet!!
But what about the rest of the recipe title…”fruit and mayonnaise and marshmallows and nuts all mixed together freak me out”?
Love that son-in-law, wouldn’t swap him for the world, he worships my daughter (she’s worship-worthy to the nth…a kumquat if there ever was one)…but his food quirks can be a challenge to the cook.
This is the type of son-in-law who throws his all into everything—intense, cheerful, thoughtful, curious, smart, talks a mile a minute, multitasks like Hydra in Greek mythology could have if cell phones and tablets and laptops and all such things had been around in myth time—but you put an innocent, harmless bowl of Waldorf salad in front of him and he says:
“WHAT IS THIS WITH ALL THIS FRUIT AND MAYONNAISE AND MARSHMALLOW AND NUTS IN IT? THINGS WITH FRUIT AND MAYONNAISE AND MARSHMALLOWS AND NUTS ALL MIXED TOGETHER FREAK ME OUT!!”
Well son, you are easily freaked out—a little high strung there it seems.
The poor thing kind of paled when we told him what it was and how much we loved it and could eat it by the bucketful.
Since he’s a big talker anyway, and my sisters and I were curious about just what was it about Waldorf salad that was so freakishly scary, we…asked him!!!
He started making his case for the fact that, individually, he LIKED all those ingredients and had no PROBLEM with them…individually.
But you mix them all together and the texture just…freaked him out.
We love him. He’s ours, all ours.
But Waldorf salad RULES, I don’t care who you are!!
HATE POINT: the new Kraft mayonnaise
LOVE POINT: that son-in-law
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
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
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.”
If there are 52 Sundays in a year’s time, and Mimi cooked roast beef a lot on Sundays, then we probably had roast beef Sunday dinners maybe 40 out of 52 Sundays. The way Mimi cooked roast beef, you never got tired of it, so it was no problem to eat it almost every Sunday.
A roast beef Sunday dinner menu:
- roast beef and gravy
- Mahatma white rice
- green beans (sometimes with new potatoes)
- brown-n-serve rolls (sadly, this is “not scratch”)
- Waldorf salad or congealed grapefruit salad
- strawberry shortcake for dessert
Now this particular menu lineup was not necessarily set in stone, but pretty much if you had roast beef, you’d have the rest of it. For instance, for some reason Mimi didn’t usually have butterbeans with the roast. Butterbeans were more the type of vegetable that we had with fried chicken or fried pork chops…that’s just how it was.
The gravy varied from a thin pan juice (my favorite) to gravy thickened with flour and water…also very good; it just depended on Mimi’s cooking mood that day.
White rice—was basmati even INVENTED back then??? A rhetorical question, if you will.
The fresh green beans were always delicious, and even though there was a starch hanging around in the form of white rice, a few potatoes added to the starch offering via the green beans were okay.
The squash were of the yellow crookneck variety, of course…just your ordinary delicious from-the-southern-garden squash. Mimi would scrub them a little to get the garden dirt off, slice them into medium-size chunks, slice up some Vidalia onion and green bell pepper in small pieces, put squash, onion, and bell pepper in a pot of salted water (just enough to cover), bring to a boil, and then simmer until just soft.
Then drain, put into a LIGHTLY buttered Pyrex dish, dot some butter chunks (remember…Land O’Lakes unsalted butter) over the top, and “cook” in a 350 degree oven maybe 20 minutes. Since the squash was already cooked, of course, this 350 action was just to get things heated through good.
BUT WAIT A MINUTE…this post is supposed to be about how to cook a roast beef!! I got so full of looove about the squash that I got sidetracked!! But let’s quickly finish the menu first.
Brown-n-serve rolls. Not scratch, but you just didn’t serve biscuits, hoecake, or cornbread with roast beef. Sometimes Mimi would get inspired and make some what she called “angel biscuits” which were a delicious quick yeast bread, but, more often than not, it was good old brown-n-serve rolls.
Waldorf salad or congealed grapefruit salad. This is where my younger sister and I pleasantly have a difference of opinion. Younger sister says…if we had strawberry shortcake for dessert we never had Waldorf salad. Well, I just don’t know if I agree with that or not. Must ask older sister and see what she says.
Strawberry shortcake. Sometimes we called it that, sometimes we said when we were done eating (that’s some strong vernacular talk there) “go get the pound cake and strawberries and whipped cream out for dessert”.
So, let’s see…before the roast beef cooking lesson, let’s recap what recipes need to be discussed in later posts:
- white rice (really very easy—just have to watch the sticking)
- green beans and new potatoes
- squash (see the above “how-to” when got sidetracked)
- brown-n-serve rolls (go to store, buy, read directions)
- angel biscuits (now we’re talking)
- Waldorf salad
- congealed grapefruit salad
- strawberry shortcake
ROAST BEEF COOKING DIRECTIONS, FINALLY
Mimi always bought a rump roast (and I always just hated having to hear that word or even say it and when I got older and knew that touching raw meat was just part of life and if I went to the grocery store I might have to ask the meat guy do you have any rump roasts if I didn’t see any in the meat counter and that would remind everybody within hearing distance of “rumps” like your “hiney” and it could just potentially be so embarrassing or awkward…I did LOTS of over-thinking in my earlier years).
And I swear on a stack of Bibles that it’s not the word “rump” that made me switch to buying a sirloin tip roast for my roast beef cookings; a sirloin tip just seems tenderer to me somehow.
So, you can get a rump roast, a sirloin tip roast, maybe even a chuck roast (ummm…maybe not—remember this is not a pot roast we’re cooking here)—one that costs about $15, which at this writing amounts to 3-4 pounds of beef.
Sometimes I rinse it, sometimes not, just depends on the mood of the moment…but just be sure if there’s a string around the roast to take it off. Pat the roast a little dry if you rinsed it.
You will pepper, but NOT SALT, the roast rather vigorously—a switch from Mimi’s roast would be using coarsely ground black pepper, not the fine fly-speck kind of black pepper she used. Pepper rather lackadaisically, but vigorously, on all sides (primarily the top and bottom, with a little casual shake on the sides).
Have a cast iron dutch oven getting good and hot on the stove eye. You want the cast iron hot enough so that when the beef hits the iron it will start searing.
Sear it on one side ‘til you’ve got almost a little char action going on. You don’t want the heat to be low enough and the time spent searing in the dutch oven short enough that the meat is just unappetizingly middling-tan looking. When the one side is seared sufficiently, turn over and sear the other side, then kind of fool around with searing the sides in a desultory fashion.
Have the oven ready at 325- 350 degrees.
Put the lid on the dutch oven, stick it in the oven on a middle or lower-middle rack. No water necessary AT THIS POINT.
I like to cook a roast this size somewhere between 3 and 4 hours. The meat wrapper often states “cook 20 minutes to the pound” but I-Gad!! that wouldn’t be but an hour to an hour and a half. Horrifying!! The thing won’t be done right is the only way to say it!! But then again, I am frequently accused by my older sister of cooking meat until it’s Son of Hockey Puck, to which I say “I’m sorry”…which in this family means no you’re NOT sorry one bit. I repeat to my sisters…”I’m sorry, but I just like to make sure the meat is well-done”.
It would be good to state at this point that I freely admit I’m not the greatest meat cook and have certainly overcooked meat before…we’ll never die of trichinosis in this household…but this roast is PERFECT when cooked 3-4 hours.
So, the roast is in the oven, and some of you may be wondering “well, is it going to STICK without any LIQUID??”
Answer—no, not in the beginning. The beef will start to exude its own juices for a while, but you’ll need to start checking it maybe after 45 minutes or so to see if you need to throw a little water in (the pan juices will start to get thick and syrupy and start gumming up and reducing way too much). You will add water several times during the cooking of the roast—maybe three times. Amount of water?? Maybe ½ cup at a time—or a little more. No need to turn the roast over but you can if you want to.
So, the clock is ticking…you put the roast in around 2:00 and it’s getting to be 5:00 now (this would be a weekday supper roast, not a Sunday dinner roast—more on that later***). You may be thinking “surely it’s done by now”.
Well, stick a fork in it and see if it seems tender.
Oftentimes you might feel like…well, the fork’s telling me just a little more time in the oven. So basically there’s a good chance you’re going to cook it almost 4 hours.
When the roast is done (extremely tender), take it out of oven and let the dutch oven sit on a cold stove eye to kind of rest after all its hard work. You can read cooking articles about how the meat continues to cook, let it rest in its juices, something about the grain, etc etc, but basically just know that 1) it’s just about too hot to eat straight out of the oven and 2) after cooling a little bit, the flavor is not as “hot wet meat” if that makes any sense. My father, a beyond-wonderful man, preferred to eat his fried chicken cold, because he said when hot it was like eating hot wet chicken. Perfectly understandable, so treat the roast beef cooling time similarly to the fried chicken.
So now you’re left with the gravy quandary. Lord Jesus!! Gravy can be tricky!! Hmmm—could I be trying to STALL here and perform a DELAY TACTIC of sorts, since sometimes MY gravy comes out rather hit or miss??
Possibly. First, take the roast out of the dutch oven.
Look at the pan juices, think positive, and ask yourself “do I need to add just a little water, not so much that it turns watery, but just enough to stretch out those juices?”. That would be your pan juice gravy. All that’s needed then is to heat up the juices just a little to account for the water you’ve added, if any.
For a thicker gravy, you’ll want to start a stove eye to heating up, place the dutch oven on it, put just a little sprinkle of plain flour (White Lily) in the juices, and start stirring on medium to medium-high heat. Add a little more water, then add a little more flour, stirring all the while. Repeat ‘til you think there’s enough. Some people use cornstarch to thicken the gravy, but Mimi always used flour and never had any problem.
Sometimes in a fit of desperation if things aren’t going right (i.e. gravy is lumpy with flour lumps), it’s a good idea to stir up the flour in a little cold water BEFORE you add flour/water to the gravy. Why it works sometimes to just throw some flour in and sometimes it doesn’t work is a mystery. Probably the safe thing to do is to use the flour/water mix first, then add to juices.
Mimi could stretch gravy with flour and water ‘til you thought you had made a pot roast instead of the seared roast there was so much gravy; she just had the knack. And her gravy never misbehaved (got lumpy), no matter which way she added the flour. So irritating that it always worked for her and sometimes doesn’t for me. Another one of those cooking mysteries that can lead one to butt their head against the wall.
Either of these gravies is just MADE for putting on white rice. Gravy is optional on the roast beef…it just depends on if you prefer the purity of the meat sans gravy.
And that’s the end of the roast beef recipe.
*** When Mimi cooked roast for Sunday dinner (dinner being the meal after the 11:00 church service, which ended a little after 12:00), she would put the roast on in the morning before Sunday School, have the beans and potatoes cooked and turned off before leaving the house, cook the rice and the squash after church, and the salads and dessert were made the day before. The roast would therefore be cooking all during church time. The house never caught fire.
HATE POINT: it’s hard to find anything to hate here, except maybe the brown-n-serve rolls
LOVE POINT: families enjoying traditions like a roast beef Sunday dinner so that years later, after death separates us, the memories still comfort, and the adult children and grandchildren realize how blessed they were to have parents and grandparents like Mimi and Papa
There’s all different sorts of ladies, I guess, but for me (me being Mrs. Hate), as a little girl in the 1960s, a Southern lady in a small town would conjure up this image: playing Bridge or Canasta on Saturday afternoons while eating chicken salad and tomato aspic, with pound cake and boiled custard for dessert.
And to drink?? Russian tea was always de rigueur…I could promise you on a stack of Baptist Bibles that no Russian had ever, ever lived in my small town, but Russian tea was considered quite lady-like on Saturday afternoons.
For card playing Saturdays, you didn’t dress up quite like going to church on Sundays, but you dressed a little more fancily than you would if you were just around the house by yourself. And I daresay that the cards themselves were a little more fancy than the cards one played with for everyday play.
And I should know all this, because my grandmother taught me how to play Canasta when I was just a wee awkward little girl six years old, and I watched her make all the preparations for her Saturday afternoon Canasta games, games that were rotated through the little circle of friends’ homes…of course!! One of those unspoken rules that just simmer and birth over the years, rules yielding the blessed safety and sanctity of routine, with “taking turns hosting” being the first rule.
Canasta and Bridge days were certainly a carefully proscribed affair, with allowances made for each individual’s cooking specialty and allowances made for the idiosyncrasies of the players. Examples as follows: “you know Martha always has to sit in that chair” or “you know Julia has to talk ten minutes about her grandchildren before we can even get started” or “you know if Lois doesn’t get a wild card in any of her hands she’ll pout ‘til next time”…all harmless little comments for this little set of friends, no viciousness or spite regarding looks or husbands or monetary status. I should know, because these women were of a different time and character. Were they saints? Not necessarily, but they just “knew” that you just “knew how to act”. So hard to explain this…a combination of innocence, character, and too much hard work keeping house and going to church and circle meetings to have time to be vicious and catty.
Granny was a very neat, very thorough scratch cook with a delicate touch; no fear, there will be plenty of Granny stories to come. For this story, however, the focus is her Russian tea, which was even served in the sweltering hot days of July and August. Imagine 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon in July with the temperature pushing 100 degrees and saying “why yes, Mildred (Granny’s fantastic, plain-jane name) I’d LOVE some Russian tea”.
There was a sad time in the 1970s and 1980s when Russian tea was some concoction with a base of instant Tang powdered orange drink, or was it Tang powdered instant orange drink, or Tang instant orange powdered drink, or…so interchangeable with this Tang stuff. But hey, Tang had its place…astronauts and all that. Fun Fact: the creator of Tang, William A. Mitchell, also invented Pop Rocks, Cool Whip, a form of instant-set Jell-O, and other convenience foods (thanks to Wikipedia reference). And Cool Whip? Oh my Lord in Heaven…oh Lord have mercy…NO COOL WHIP!! ONLY LIGHTLY WHIPPED AND SUGARED HEAVY CREAM!! (but you know, there’s something about cherry Jell-O and Cool Whip…)
However, Granny’s Russian tea was as follows:
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 16 cups cold water
- 12 tea bags
- 1 cup orange juice
- 3/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
Bring to a boil cloves, cinnamon, and water.
Remove from heat and add tea bags.
Let sit for 5 minutes; remove bags and cloves and cinnamon.
Add orange juice, lemon juice, (and surely you know the juices need to come from fresh oranges and lemons…no frozen or bottled stuff) and sugar and stir well.
Strain for extra fineness and serve hot.
I haven’t had Russian tea in years, and I mean YEARS, but digging for that recipe and remembering Granny and her organized, efficient, phlegmatic little small-town Southern self makes me want to mix up a batch right now…and it’s going to be 82 degrees today. Not bad Russian tea weather, but I long for July and August when it’s a smothering and humid 100 degrees and I will dress up in a neat shirtwaist dress with hose and small pumps and a string of pearls and a circle pin and drink scalding-hot Russian tea. Divine.
The day came when my grandmother was 93 and lonely (but hung on to life until 6 weeks short of 100), and my mother said to her “why don’t you call up some friends and play cards?” to which my grandmother oh so truthfully replied “they’re all dead” as she stared out the crank-out windows on her little back porch. Time passed, the living room that had hosted so many Saturday afternoon Canasta games was silent, and the card-players were just ghosts lingering only in our small-town memories, except for Granny…who had both the blessing and the curse of living beyond her span.
“Five O’Clock Tea”
HATE POINT: obviously, Tang-based Russian tea, complete with instant tea powder
LOVE POINT: Granny’s patience with me and enjoyment in teaching a lonely little six-year old girl how to play a grownups’ card game
You all are getting some lagniappe here, lagniappe meaning (in case there are some readers out there who haven’t heard that word) a bonus…the bonus being a good recipe, a word you might not hear very often, and a little family reminiscing. 🙂
Now, I would hazard that many people know about lagniappe, but how many are familiar with the word “foundered”?
My father used this word a LOT and we, the daughters, still use the word today when the situation calls for it. So, what does it mean?
The way Daddy used the word “foundered” is this way:
“I ate so much of that fried fish and those hushpuppies that I got foundered.” Or, “if you keep eating that watermelon you’re going to get foundered on it.”
The meaning of the word “foundered” can probably be gleaned by the context in the above sentences. Simply put, “foundered” means you ate so much (often of a rich food) that you just feel blah, uncomfortable, kind of queasy, blechhh. You usually don’t end up throwing up or anything, you just feel like “I sure wish I hadn’t made such a pig of myself and kept on eating like a hog at the trough”. Probably the best cure for foundering is a ginger ale, maybe a Coke. After being foundered, next time you ate something later on in the day, it would probably be just some saltines, or soda crackers, as Daddy usually called them.
Well, being the driven and inquisitive person that I am, I thought “hmmmm…this word is so familiar to me, but I wonder if it’s in the dictionary?” And, wonder of wonders, it is.
founder: to disable (an animal) especially by excessive feeding
Since Daddy was a farmer and farmed crops and had cows and pigs (cattle and hogs? I vacillate between the two), this might be the source for him of using this word in referring to human overeating.
Or maybe it was a word that was common anyway in this rural area back in the 1920s and 1930s when he was growing up. Whatever, if we’re sitting around stuffing toasted pecans or boiled peanuts in our mouths like somebody’s going to take them away from us, one of the sisters will usually look at the other and say “you better quit eating so much, you’re gone get foundered, and it’ll be your own fault.” No sympathy here!!
Well, why don’t we just mosey on to the sweet bread recipe referenced in the post title? And, because I’ve spent so much time explaining “foundered”, let’s just present the recipe without any more yip-yap, as I say. Just a warning, though…if you eat too much of it and get foundered, it’s your own fault. Man! I got some Mrs. Hate-ness going on there! 🙂
SWEET OLIVE OIL QUICK BREAD
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- pinch salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup unsulfured sultana raisins
- grated zest of 1 lemon
- unsalted butter for loaf pan
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the sugar. Add the eggs, milk, and olive oil, and beat well.
Toss the raisins in a little flour to coat them lightly. Add the raisins and lemon zest to the flour and egg mixture and stir to distribute evenly.
Butter and flour a loaf pan. Transfer the batter into the pan and smooth the surface. Sprinkle the top with pine nuts. Bake for 55 mintues, or until a thin skewer inserted in the center comes out dry. Let cool for a few minutes. Unmold and cool on a rack.
(www.epicurious.com from Desserts and Sweet Snacks: Rustic, Italian Style by Viana La Place)
I mix this bread by hand using a whisk (don’t over beat, no need to use mixer, just mix lightly) and use Bertolli extra light tasting olive oil, not extra-virgin olive oil. I’ve also substituted currants or dried cherries for the raisins/skipped the pine nuts or used almonds, and it’s really good if you sprinkle the top of loaf generously with powdered sugar when it comes out of the oven.
Foundered…you’ve been warned.
some of the greatest blessings in life
are the unexpected blessings…
they are a gift in the midst of everyday life
and, as we look at our life, especially when we are
with the advancing of years and aging
…aging just gives us more opportunities for experiences…
we can see blessed experiences have piled up and are there
if we but recognize them and cherish them as they unfold
a quote we often hear is
“there are no accidents”
and here is a story about a no-accident that is a true blessing
the patient…an older black man
the therapy worker…a younger white woman
the patient seemed to know who the therapist was…
but the therapist had never heard of the patient
the patient started to question the therapist and said…
I know who you are…
your doctor granddaddy set my arm way back in the 1930s
when I was a little boy
and fell off climbing over that fence
and broke my arm
he was a fine man, a good man
and my sisters and I remember your great-aunts
and their cats and dogs and chickens
and their horse and buggy
and their pistol
and their palm-reading
and how we all lived out there on your farm…
all of us, my granddaddy and my uncle too
and we walked that dirt road
and fished in that pond
and played in those woods
and gathered eggs underneath your aunts’ house
the patient said…
I can sit in this room in the hospital
and look out the window at the woods
and remember the old days
of running through those woods
playing and running and being so happy and alive
as the therapist did not have the privilege of knowing
her grandfather and great-aunts
…they died before she was born…
for the opportunity to hear these stories
and meet the man who was her connection to her past
and the man was thankful to meet the woman
who had the family “blood” in her
and had her grandfather’s voice
and her grandfather’s walk
with tears in his eyes, the patient told me…
it’s just so good to talk to somebody about the old days
he remembers his childhood as a blessed happy time
what wonderful memories he has
and how wonderful that he came into my life
***“there are no accidents”***
thank you, Mr. Johnny
I live outside the city limits of a small town of less than 6,000. One would think that somewhere along the way the patient, Mr. Johnny, and I would have met up, more than likely in the grocery store…which is usually the best place in town for having a friendly chat. Truth is, I had never laid eyes on him, so his searching looks at me and questions to me of “do you know who I am? I bet you don’t know me” discomfited me slightly, yet he seemed harmless enough.
Once the floodgates opened and Mr. Johnny started pouring out memories, however, I saw the past come alive. I had heard endless stories of my wild, loving grandfather and eccentric great-aunts from my mother, but there was something about hearing a stranger’s remembrances of living on the farm and the love he had for my grandfather that gave me a whole different perspective on how a non-family member viewed my family and this safe time in his life.
Mr. Johnny might take umbrage at being termed “a non-family member”, and you know what? He would be right. I felt as close to him and as comfortable talking with him as I would my blood kin.
And you know what else? Saying Mr. Johnny “had tears in his eyes” is not quite right either.
Mr. Johnny actually was speechless with dry sobs and emotions almost every time we talked. Such is the aching, stirring beauty of shared memories of “the old days”.
my friend, if you’re reading this, it’s
writing about our fun times together
when you were a patent in the hospital
do you remember how we talked and laughed?
do you remember telling me about your boys and their personalities
and how sweet their wives and your grandchildren are?
do you remember talking about men and women
“honey chile, that’s just how men are”?
do you remember telling me about the cake that your mother said was
“a sufficient cake”?
I remember all those times, even if you don’t…
because that bad Alzheimer’s had to go and upset your brain’s wiring
Cornelia will always be the friend you thought she was…
a little thing like being called by a different name didn’t really matter
as long as we were having a good time together
The patient, Mrs. X, was the quintessential old-fashioned Southern lady. She was soft-voiced, humble, comfortable and gracious around presidents and their subordinates and captains of industry—and yes, she truly was around them—as well as those without a penny to their name. Though I could tell by our conversations she was an excellent cook, Mrs X would just laugh that sweet laugh and say “oh, it’s just plain old cooking like I grew up with”, but such is the self-deprecation of one who knows that there is no need to “put on airs”. She had the elusive talent of being both self-assured and modest, a personality combination we would do well to emulate.
To the patient, I was “Cornelia”. At the beginning of her hospital stay, Mrs. X called me by my Christian name; I might have had to remind the patient of my name every morning, but that was no problem. One day, however, I walked in and was dubbed “Cornelia” by the patient, and from that moment on, Mrs. X and “Cornelia” shared many confidences. One of the most poignant moments I experienced with Mrs. X was when Mrs. X was unsure about whether it was a good idea to have the CNA give her her bath before therapy. I saw the hesitation and confusion on the patient’s face, the CNA was standing there with soaps and towels and basins, and then Mrs. X’s voice dropped a little and she whispered “Cornelia, what do you think? Do you think this is a good time for my bath?” So “Cornelia” said “well, yes, I think it would be a fine time.”
What went through my mind during this interchange? How unsure, yet trusting, Mrs. X was? How hard it is to witness a human’s decline, whether it be mental or physical? How easily those without strong minds and strong bodies could be taken advantage of in all sorts of ways by those with evil intentions? Of course—all these thoughts and more.
I know that we can’t solve all the world’s problems, but allowing this patient to exist in these in-the-moment safe bubbles of idly talking and laughing and reminiscing with the one she thought was her childhood friend “Cornelia” seemed to be the answer to the problem of “how to give an Alzheimer’s patient a little respect and joy on just an ordinary day”.