Food With Thought
When a friend asked for volunteers to make dinners for Michael and the two little girls while his wife Melissa is in an Anchorage hospital, 800 miles away from Haines, on complete bed rest, until hopefully December, to keep a baby in her womb who apparently wants to come out early ( their third child, a toddler, is up there with Michael's parents and visiting his mother daily). I said yes. So did lots of other people. The meals-on-wheels calendar filled up quickly. When I was chosen to be among the first, I thought about what kids like to eat, and what a dad might prefer, and of course what would be healthy, taste good, and make them all feel special, rather than a little blue-- especially since my turn was the first day of school and I know how much Melissa likes to be there, taking pictures of the back to school outfit and all that-- and how the girls would miss her. I cooked carefully, and intentionally, as my Buddhist friends say. I roasted chicken parts, including drumsticks for little hands, mashed potatoes with organic milk, butter and one sweet potato mixed in-- for the vitamins, the nice peach color, and the taste-- and cooked a bowl of peas, because kids will eat pea-studded mashed potatoes. When Mom is away they need their vegetables. But that was all kind of bland for Michael, so I made a bean salad ( it would keep as leftovers better than garden lettuce) using steamed green beans and frozen corn, canned black-eyed peas, sliced red pepper and red onion, lots of minced garlic, a whole handful of chopped herbs from the greenhouse-- basil, oregano, rosemary, fennel and parsley-- and tossed it all in olive oil and balsamic vinegar with salt and pepper. I did what I always do for dessert, and asked one of my daughters to bake. Stoli walked over from next door to deliver brownies with my granddaughter on her hip, just in time to stack it all in the box and deliver it. I was embarrassed later that night when Melissa's dad thanked me for feeding his family like a king, and especially when Melissa herself sent a grateful message on facebook from the hospital. I really, really wanted to make that meal. As I prepared it, I thought of all the friends, neighbors, acquaintances even-- who did the same for my family when I was in a Seattle hospital and nursing home, and later, at home flat on my back after my terrible bike accident. I know that the food, and especially the kindness and prayers roasted and stirred in with it, helped to heal me. Of course I can't repay them all. But what I can do, is make another dinner, for another family, with hearty measures of care and love. But there's more to it than that. The thing is, a strong community is not created by only paying back the people who have helped you with an equal favor. Living together well in a town, or a family for that matter, is not about getting even. It is about giving what you can, when you are able, for whomever needs a little lift, right now. I didn't have the chaos and excitement of the first day of school, as my children are grown. I also didn't have time to be sad about that, as I was so happy to spend the day planning and preparing a special meal for a neighbor's children. Which is all a long way of saying what everyone already knows,-- that in giving you really do receive. Honestly, it was no trouble at all. It was my pleasure.