I got completely swept up and suggested we invite my mother-in-law. She is always cooking for us. I think she believes we wouldn't come by and visit if she didn't prepare something fabulous. And anything she prepares usually IS fabulous. (I long ago discovered her secret – add butter, salt and sugar to whatever you're making. This includes fruit salad, steak, bread – you name it.) She also believes I am incapable of cooking anything that doesn't come from a box. I’m not sure where this idea came from as I have prepared her non-cooking son thousands of delicious meals over the past 20+ years.
While looking through recipes , checking the sales circulars and making a shopping list, I received a phone call from my 94 year-old neighbor Mary. The day before, she tripped over a speed bump and had fallen. I walked right over to check on her and as she opened her door, I immediately determined that she must have broken her fall with her face. The poor dear was black and blue around her eyes and nose and had a good-sized goose egg on her forehead. Amazingly, she did not break any bones, but she was such a pitiful sight, I immediately invited her to dinner. It would be great, I thought. Two lonely,elderly ladies. They could enjoy listening to each other’s health complaints and doctor stories. Perhaps they would even become fast friends. I congratulated myself on the way home – happy to bring not only sustenance to these great ladies, but also an end to their loneliness.
I spent the day shopping, cleaning and preparing a pork roast, mashed potatoes, balsamic apples, roasted butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, and for dessert, an apple crisp with real, full fat, full sugar vanilla ice cream. Throughout the day, as the delicious aromas were taking over the kitchen, my mother-in-law called with several offers to bring an entrée. At one desperate point, as the dinner hour neared, she suggested that we just call and order a pizza. My confidence waned a bit, but Mary was so excited she twice called to ask what time she should head over.
As the diner hour approached, I received one more call from my mother-in-law informing me she was preparing Brussels sprouts. I started to argue – I had already planned to make those – and then just gave up and told her that would be great. She seemed a bit befuddled when she arrived. I think she may have been nervous about Mary’s impending arrival. Or maybe it was the prospect of eating my cooking.
I was eager to get her out of the kitchen – she is a notorious back seat cook – so sent her and my husband into the living room with a glass of wine. When Mary arrived, I fixed her a glass of soda and ushered her in to meet her new found friend. My attention required in the kitchen, I left my husband to facilitate the conversation until the ladies felt more comfortable with each other. When I was able to return to the living room a few minutes later, I noticed my husband, his wine glass nearly empty, wearing an amused smile. I’m not sure if it was the hearing loss, or the vast number of decades in the room, but I found my mother-in-law talking about pain killers, and Mary responding with her own conversation about pecans. I needed to get dinner on the table right away.
We sat down to enjoy the meal, my mother-in-law at the opposite end of the table from Mary. Their conversation resumed with lots of repeats and mis-beats. They reminded me of two toddlers engaging in what’s known as parallel play. Fortunately, we all enjoyed the tender pork, the rich mashed potatoes, and the dueling vegetables. My mother-in-law had seconds of everything in the time it took Mary to slowly clean her plate. As I cleared away the dishes, I heard my mother-in-law ask her son, in a not-so-quiet whisper, if I had actually cooked, or did I buy everything pre-made somewhere. I’m still not sure how to take that.
The ladies did not exchange telephone numbers. Neither has asked after the other since our big Saturday night feast. So my dreams of ending their loneliness did not quite come to fruition. But I am still satisfied knowing that each had a healthy, lovingly-prepared meal, and a night away from their solitary lives. I think we’ll have to make this a regular thing.