The holidays always presented one of the most challenging times during my years as a stay-at-home caregiver for my now deceased mother. Being male and spouse-less, I was not the best substitute for the generations that previously filled her holidays, but like most caregivers who neglect their own lives in support of another's, I did the best I could.
One year I invited over for Christmas Eve dinner a fellow writer named Tiago, his sister Shanta, and her teenage son Cordero, all of whom had emigrated from Brazil a few years before. In Brazil, Tiago had been a well-known radio personality and columnist, but in the United States had worked mostly in restaurant kitchens. His sister was a homecare assistant.
Since Shanta had to work afterwards, we planned the dinner for 4 p.m. As the time approached for their arrival, I asked myself exactly how delusional must I have been to think I could pull off a holiday dinner by myself? The night before had been a rough one with Mom trying to get up on her own and then having to call me after hitting the floor. It had taken all morning to calm the fear and disorientation-hers as well as mine-- that generally followed such events.
I had been smart enough to buy a pre-cooked smoked turkey from a grocer who never failed me in that department and made my signature macaroni and cheese casserole, which most of my relatives seemed to believe was my only other redeeming family value. As impressive as the table looked, set with Cotillion International China and a floral centerpiece, the turkey and macaroni and cheese by themselves looked like a mismatched couple on a blind date gone very bad. The knock on the door told me it would have to do. I would offer it as a snack for our guests to enjoy before maybe going someplace else-like back home--to enjoy a more complete meal.
I opened the front door and Shanta sang out, "Merry happy Christmas." She, Tiago, and Cordero each embraced me with one arm as they entered while holding a large bag with the other. I assumed the box and bags contained ingredients for something Shanta wanted to cook and said, "Oh, ok, the kitchen's this way."
"Oh this is what we need right here," she said, and they placed their packages on the antique buffet across from the table.
I introduced them to Mom. Their immediate and clearly genuine affection towards her surprised me. Later, I would sit mesmerized as they sat as close to her as they could get and said how she reminded them of the elders they had left back in Brazil and whom they missed deeply. To put her more at ease in their presence, I reminded Mom that these were the people who had stayed with me at the house when a hurricane warning had forced evacuation of the city and she had gone to Atlanta with the rest of the family. She recalled hearing about them and sat up with renewed regality to receive her guests more properly. I was so stunned by the sudden transformation that I didn't really notice when Shanta stepped away from us.
When I heard her say, "Your table's so beautiful," I turned around and stood still. While she chirped about how gorgeous the turkey looked and how fantastic the macaroni and cheese smelled, she unloaded one Brazilian dish after another from the bags and box and placed them on the table. Suddenly, spread before me was a large bowl of black bean stew, a platter of sliced ham, a plate of fried bananas, a casserole of green beans covered with peppered mushroom sauce, a small bowl of peanut butter candy, and a plate of peanut sugar cookies.
Geez, I thought, these people are food elves.
After blessing the table, I turned on the stereo and Mahalia Jackson's powerful contralto sang out, "Oh come all ye' faithful, joyful and triumphant..."
My mother commented on how "tender" the ham was and we were both surprised to learn that Tiago and not Shanta had cooked it. The treat, I knew, was a special one for her because I had stopped eating pork at age fifteen, so rarely cooked it. I had lost any taste for it on the very day I helped cousins in the country slaughter a hog and saw with my own eyes, and smelled with my own nose, exactly where chit'lins came from. That, however, was a very different memory from a very different chapter in our lives. The one we were making that moment, sweetened by the wine of unexpected grace and flavored with the spice of holiday joys past and present, was much better.
Causes Aberjhani * Supports
I make contributions to a number of charities through my lenses on Squidoo but the following are a few that interest me the most: