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The Spice of Holiday Joy

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.

Comments
14 Comment count
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True Christmas

This is what it's really about! A sudden unexpected gift in the midst of turmoil and chaos.

Trusted friends can do so much to help carers shoulder the burden, which, with the best will in the world, can be harrowing and demoralising, calling upon all possible resources.

The thing is, you opened your heart and took risks, when you felt most impoverished, and the effect was multiplied to the wonderful benefit of all concerned.

Thanks for sharing, Aberjhani!

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Thank You Rosy and Red Room

The fact that Red Room chose to feature this story as a "Holiday Special" is yet another gift for which I am very grateful.

My friends' portable feast delivered in brown bags and a box really was a huge surprise and blessing that year. For the sake of brevity, I left out the part about how I made them promise to bring nothing more than a cake or pie for dessert. As it was, their choice to share as abundantly as they did made the holiday for all involved.

Aberjhani
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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Thank you so much for

Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful memory with us.
Susan

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You are welcome Susan

 
Memories like this are among the blessings I count when I find myself about to give in to the sorrow of less inspiring situations.

Aberjhani
Founder of Creative Thinkers International
author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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Hi Aberjhani, As I read this

Hi Aberjhani,

As I read this post, I ate your macaroni and cheese. Mmm, good! I love the color. Golden yellow is the most joyous color to me.

Happy Holidays.

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Happy Holidays to you also Keiko

It's been a couple of years since I've made that dish but I might surprise a friend (or even myself) and cook up a dish for New Year's Eve. Maybe...:-)

Aberjhani
Founder of Creative Thinkers International
author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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From the Zen

Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water.
The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken.
Although its light is wide and great,
The moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide.
The whole moon and the entire sky
Are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass.
(Dogen)

Aberjhani, a world can be encapsulated in moments such as the one you have recollected and garnished.

Warmest wishes for the coming year...

~F

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Thank you for sharing this

Thank you for sharing this lovely story of generosity.

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Truly you are welcome Pamela

 
Thank you for reading and commenting.

 

Aberjhani
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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Thank you (and Dogen) for

Thank you (and Dogen) for the enlightened commentary Farzana. Indeed, what I have presented here is but a gentle partial flash of the many marvels that unfolded that day.

My best to you and yours in this coming new year also, and in all the times beyond and in-between as well.

Aberjhani
Founder of Creative Thinkers International
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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Sitting close to your mother...

I am sure this affection made your mother's day very special too. The mac and cheese sounds wonderful--as well as your friends' gifts.

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You're right Sue

 
Making time for those who need care is something many find difficult to do so my mother had become more accustomed to others keeping their distance rather than making it a point to draw closer. And that did indeed make her day a very special one.

Aberjhani
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)

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Beautiful

Ah, these are the kinds of stories I miss, beautifully rendered.

Nordette Adams
WSATA for her persona blog.
See feeds from all her haunts @Her411.
Follow on Twitter @this link.

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Glad you liked it Nordette

 
Though not always able to comment, I still enjoy your various writings as well, especially your book reviews and reports on literary happenings in general.

Aberjhani
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File)