Turkey Hash

I was in the car driving Miss Cathy over to my brother’s for Thanksgiving; it was quiet so I turned on the radio to pass the time. NPR was in the middle of an interview with an author (I didn’t catch his name or the title of his book) who was from a family of ten children and even though they grew up in great poverty each child went to college, became successful and distinguished themselves in many different fields.

The radio host, Diane Reims asked to what did he attribute his and his siblings’ dedication to education and life accomplishments. The author said that their mother, a woman who had very little schooling herself instilled in them a passion for learning and was the reason they were all so successful.

Upon hearing this I looked at Miss Cathy seated in the backseat through the rearview mirror and said, “Hey, they could be talking about you.”

To which she responded, “Well, where was the daddy?” “Doesn’t he deserve any of the credit?” “Makes me sick how it’s always the mother that gets all the praise.”

“Oh my, the dealer passes”, I thought to myself. Instigating a rant about how fathers don’t get enough credit for their offspring’s success was not my intent. Listening to the author reminded me how much my brother and I owe Miss Cathy. I was just trying to pay the old bird a compliment as we were stuck in traffic on our way to eat a bird of the Butterball variety.

I tried to interrupt to remind her that I trying to give her a compliment but it was too late; she was already in full career. But, like so many conversations I have with her these days you never know what she’s going to say or how long she’s going to stay on topic.

I have learned that her ‘’default’ response is something negative (see exchange above for proof). I took a detour off t Interstate 95 (it can take you from Maine to Florida to see grandma and that’s apparently what everyone was doing that Thanksgiving morning).

The rest of the ride was pleasant; I’d switched to the classical station for the duration of the drive to avoid any further conversation.

Thanksgiving dinner at my brother’s had become a tradition for years after my Pop died as it was the last time the entire family had been together before he died in 1998. We didn’t come over last year because Miss Cathy just didn’t want to leave home so it was nice to all be together again, even if it was just for a couple of days.

As always, my sister-in-law, Suemi set a beautiful table worthy of a photo spread in Food &Wine magazine. We all took our usual places at the table, assigned long ago; Tony and Suemi at the ends, Nile across from me and Zachary across from Miss Cathy with Tony on her right. After the prayer led by my mother we began the meal. The meal started and we’d all begun to fill our plates and bellies with all the traditional goodies in front of us. We were chattering along, nothing memorable or of great consequence, just the typical conversations families engage in when they’re all together for a holiday when all of a sudden Miss Cathy started to sing,” what so proudly we hail from the twilight’s last gleaming”.

When she got to the end of the stanza she wasn’t sure of the next line so I started singing along, feeding her the words, encouraging her to continue. So she sang on, this time louder and with more confidence, her voice clear and surprisingly melodic.

Tony joined in and soon the three of us were singing as the other looked on smiling. Tony nodded for Zach and Nile to join in and Suemi did as well, the entire family singing what we remembered of he Star Spangled Banner:

Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro’ the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming

And the rockers’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air
Gave proof thro’ the night that our flag was still there

O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave

When we finished I led the applause. It was a wonderful, corny, spontaneous movie moment, out of nowhere and out of context. A lot like my life living with Miss Cathy; unexpected and full of surprised-just without the singing usually.


This ‘n that lll

I just returned from a week off. It was my first break since going to New York to teach for a few days every other week for a while last summer.

I had committed to taking a week for myself every three months but that had fallen by the wayside. For whatever reason I felt I didn’t need the time away (could that mean that I’m actually starting to ‘like it’ here-naw). But months ago after Chad’s visit here I’d spontaneously decided to go back to Kansas City to spend a week with him.

Since Miss Cathy has been doing so well I didn’t feel bad about leaving her alone in the apartment and as is my rule I didn’t tell her about the trip till one week before my departure. She took the news in stride and there wasn’t the usual daily peppering of questions that have seasoned past trips.

Her only response when I told her my plans was, ”Oh, well I’ve gotten used to you being around so I don’t feel like I really need a break from you.”

“Okay.” I thought to myself, “these little getaways aren’t really for you” but said nothing and smiled, not wanting to take the focus off of her.

I gotta say, it was easier being away this time. A few days before my departure I made a run to the grocery store to make sure she’d have all her favorite foods and reminded Ron (her ‘other son’ from upstairs) to check in on her as well as reminding her other biological son, Tony.

While I was gone I didn’t worry (much) and called every other day, hearing from her only once or twice and it was good that when she did call she told me that she’d gone out with her girlfriend once (she actually left the apartment) in addition to the usual ranting about ‘relatives of unknown origin’.

My only concern when we talked was when she told me that one day there was a knock at the door and when she asked who it was the person said, “Is your son at home?” (this is worrying because I don’t have any ‘friends’ in the area that would just drop by unannounced) but she only talked to him through the door and didn’t give the stranger any information that would lead him to think she was alone.

She call Ron immediately after and he suggest that she leave the alarm system on even while she’s in the house during the day and not just at night when she goes to bed.

The other thing that concerned me was that she didn’t sound as if she was eating enough vegetables (which are usually a mainstay in her diet) but I was relieved to hear that most of what she was making to eat didn’t involve a lot of cooking on the stove.

Tony came on the weekend to hang out with her and then (to my surprise) took her to Charlestown Races so she could gamble (which for her means sitting at a nickel or quarter slot machine and pulling the arm until her shekels ran out-one of her favorite past-times).

I left last Sunday morning and arrived back here last night a week later. Ron picked me up at the airport and reported that all was well and Tony was going to be bringing Miss Cathy back sometime Monday morning.

So, thanks to my brother(s) I’ve got a few moments to myself to unpack and ease back into life here.

Oh, spoke too soon….I see them pulling up outside. Time to go to work………

People who need people

One day last week I was listening while Miss Cathy was talking-there’s really no other way to describe a ‘conversation’ with her really. She was telling me that she’d decided against having a girlfriend drop by for a visit. I listened as she complained about how this particular friend was someone who hated to be alone and how she constantly needed to be around someone. Mom made a point of “not” empathizing with her friend’s personality trait, saying that she didn’t understand people ‘like that’ because she was perfectly fine to be on her own.

“I get tired of her calling all the time, she’s so persistent”, she fumed, “wanting to come over here or for me to go over there. Stay home, I’m tired, entertain your own damn self.”

Exactly what she was ‘tired’ from I had no idea-a long hard day of watching TV perhaps. Frankly, I’d have thought she’d relish the opportunity to talk to someone (anyone), lord knows the two of us don’t do much of that anymore, we’re like that old married couple that’s heard each other’s stories and jokes one (or six hundred and twenty-eight) times to many-at least I feel that way.

I know it all sounds a little harsh but what do I know, they’re her friends and she’s got a right to have whatever feelings she wants to have about them. I just worry that one day she’s going to wake up and realize that she’s alienated them all and there’ll be no friends left to rail against.

She becomes quite agitated when she’s talking about something that’s happened between them. She gets herself wound up like a clock and her face becomes flush with emotion. I’ve warned time and again that she’s going to give herself an aneurism investing so much emotion in telling her tales. I try to remind her to just ‘tell the story’ and not to ‘re-live’ it-she’d have been a great Method actor.

Besides, the girlfriend she’s talking about is the very person that helped find her after she’d had her fall last year. If it wasn’t for the ‘persistence’ of this friend there’s no telling if or when anybody would have found her on her bathroom floor.

That fact alone would give that person a lifetime pass (in my book anyway) to come over or have me do whatever they wanted (you want to go to the Piggly Wiggly-no problem, I’ll push the grocery cart. Drop by at seven a.m. for a chat-I’ll put the kettle on). But hey, that’s just me.

I know she’s grateful and I know that she loves her friend but lately I’m noticing a shift toward the negative.

She’s also full of contractions, I know for a fact that as much as she rails against her friends and family she can work herself up into a panic if a few days pass and she hasn’t heard from one of them on the telephone. And telephone she does, morning noon and night, I hear her on the phone talking but that’s not how you maintain relationships (especially one’s that are within a ten-mile radius).

Besides, isn’t it better to have something to look forward to-even if it’s a visit from a friend you’re not particularly crazy about (that day) instead of just watching TV and napping until it’s time to go to bed at night? I worry that at the rate she’s going all she’ll have is the past because there’ll be no future (friendships anyway).

Maybe she has some variation of ‘survivor’s guilt’. While she’s grateful to her friend for helping to save her life maybe it’s hard to be around her now because her friend reminds her of that day and her diagnosis. I don’t know, I’m not ‘in’ their friendship. I just know that Miss Cathy seems to have less time in her day for people and the irony is that all she has is time.

Sometimes I wonder if being ornery is because of her age or her diagnosis, it’s hard to separate sometimes. Unfortunately, It’s not like I have a ‘quote, un-quote’ ‘normal’ seventy-three year in a closet somewhere that I can pull out as a control group-you know, some old person that I can gauge their reactions against hers.

No, all I have is Miss Cathy, she’s my ‘people’ and cranky or not, consistent or not, I’m still one of the luckiest people in the world because I do need her (although some days I’d just like a less chatty, nicer version of ‘her’).

Food for thought

Food seemed to be a recurring theme this week, specifically the “new” and the “mistaken”.

One of the perks of my part-time job working in catering is the occasional food that I get to bring home, less so these days as I bartend more than serve but I worked an event last Saturday and I was able to bring a few things home to share with Miss Cathy. She always calls these unexpected goodies “a special treat” and lights up like a Christmas tree at the sight of them.

She joined me in the kitchen and settled herself on one of the bar-chairs as I told her that one of the things that I brought for her was a small tin of caviar. Well, the lights went out faster than you could say “ Bah humbug” and she let out a little squeal.

“Oh nooo! I can’t stand that fishy stuff,” she said, making a face like Lucille Ball whenever she found that she’d stepped in it on “I Love Lucy”. “No thanks buddy, you can have that, I don’t want any of it!”

“Caviar,” she mocked, dragging out the syllables as if she were pulling snakes out of a hole, “ it’s suppose to be some expensive delicacy-big deal.”

“Oh, you’ve had it before?” I asked, already knowing the answer to the question.

“You can keep that stinky mess, it smells just as bad as what poor people eat down south, umm, what-is-that-called? Oh yeah, chitlins…it smells just as funky.”

“Umm, okay,” I said, amused, “so, that’s what you think, now answer my question, have you ever eaten caviar-yes or no?”

“No,” came the reply, “and I’m not going to start now, I’m not eating raw fish eggs, that’s what it is right?” “I don’t eat things raw, I don’t like sushi (another word wrestled out of her mouth as if saying it were the same as consuming it) and I don’t like caviar, ut uh!”

Her logic and stubbornness reminded me of a four year old so I treated her like one. For some reason I got a perverse kick out of this exchange and it suddenly became very important to me that she taste the caviar.

“How can you say you don’t like something if you’ve never tries it?” I reasoned as I prepared a cracker with sour cream and topped it of with some of the salty, little black pearls.” “Well, it seems to me that you have to try something at least once before you can render an opinion

“Aww! No I don’t,” came the petulant replay.

I walked the cracker round the table to where she sat and said, “Oh come on, just try it.”

“Let me smell it.” She said by way of negotiating as I lifted the hors d’ oeuvre closer to her mouth.

“Don’t smell it, just take a small bite, then that way you can say you’ve tried it and you don’t like it.”

She scrunched up her face as if she was about to be spoon-fed castor oil but to my surprise she opened her mouth and took a little bite.

“Now, that wasn’t so bad,” I said, pleased with myself that I got her to try something new.” What did that taste like?”

She looked at me and said, “Nothing, I didn’t taste anything but the sour cream.”

I took that as the go-ahead to load up the remainder of the cracker with more caviar. She took another bite and again she was un-impressed.

“See, much ado over nothing.” “Well, now you can say that you’ve tasted caviar and you’ll know what you’re talking about when you dismiss it-and you can stop saying how bad it smells because it doesn’t.”

She shrugged, ready to move on to something more appetizing. She was much happier eating the shrimp and cocktail sauce, it was familiar and more in keeping with what she’d call “a special treat”.

A little later that same night I started to make some dinner for myself. While I was out working Miss Cathy had made salmon cakes (just this side of “not” being burned, loaded with salt and a motley mix of spices, onions and garlic) and peas (with a generous amount of butter). Some of the salmon patties didn’t quite hold their shape so she’d put the cooked excess in a bowl beside the stove. I took one look in the bowl and re-named it “Who-hash” (named for the fantastical food that appears on the banquet table at the end of classic cartoon “The Grinch that stole Christmas”). Despite how it looked it tasted pretty good so I decided to put it over some rice I’d made the day before along with the peas and some diced jalapeno (Miss Cathy’s not the only one that can concoct a very a meal for a very discerning palette).

I left my concoction in the kitchen while I made a phone call in my bedroom to my ex, Chad. As I was saying goodbye I opened my door and heard Miss Cathy say, “Ut oh, I think I picked up the wrong bowl.”

I walked past her door, not taking the time to focus on what she was saying because I was still talking on the phone. It wasn’t until I entered the kitchen that her words made sense to me. I looked on the counter for my bowl and it was gone, next to the microwave sat an identical bowl and when I looked inside it only contained a spoonfull of the “Who-hash”.

I told Chad about the mix-up and promptly got off the phone. I went into Miss Cathy’s bedroom where she was sitting on the side of her bed eating my dinner to straighten out the “hash-up”.

“Why are you eating my dinner?” I queried.

“Oh,” she said putting the fork back into the bowl. ”I thought it was strange that there was so much food in my bowl, it just didn’t look right but I just added some sour cream then I put it in the microwave and started eating it.”

“Let me get this straight,” I said, once again amused by Miss Cathy and food,” you saw the bowl, knew there was something “not” right about it but you took it anyway AND you started eating it knowing that you didn’t make it?”

“It didn’t dawn on you that maybe somebody else, namely me, might have put that together?”

“Well, I knew there was something not right but..”

“…. But, you took it anyway, drowned it in sour cream and started eating it.” I said, finishing her thought as we laughed together.

“Yeah, I guess, but this is too much for me, I don’t think I want all this.”

“Too bad”, I said, teasingly, taking the bowl from her, “you loaded it up with sour cream so now you’re gonna eat it. I’m going to put it in the fridge for you and you can have it tomorrow.”

So, it’s been a very interesting week-food wise, between the caviar and the “who’s” hash.