Six Meals (For Miney Jabine)
1. November 10. Wine dinner at the Four Seasons Resort, Whistler, B.C. It’s the weekend of Cornucopia, an annual food-and-wine festival designed to bring in visitors before ski season starts. I sit at the media table. Most of us don’t know each other, but that’s fine--there’s always plenty of shoptalk when reporters get together. At meal’s end, the entire kitchen staff is trotted out for our applause--something like 20 people--almost as many cooks as diners. I forget about my mom for a few hours.
2. November 18. Cheeseburger at the airport. It’s 5pm and I’m waiting to board the red-eye from Portland to Washington, D.C. (with a connection in Phoenix and a stop in Vegas). Do the airlines get kickbacks from airport fast-food joints these days? The demise of in-flight meals sure has been a boon to Burger King, Pizza Hut, and the rest. The burger goes down easy, warm and soft. It’s strictly fuel.
3. November 20. An orderly has just brought in a tray of hospital food. My mother stopped eating two days ago. My sister won’t touch anything on the tray. My dad, forever frugal, lifts the insulated cover off the entrée, takes a bite and pronounces it palatable. Some kind of pasta with chicken and watery zucchini. Me, with my horror of wasting food prepared in good faith (or is that just my cover of virtue for an appetite that never flags?), I take a few bites too.
4. November 22. A day-old cheese sandwich and a glass of sherry. It’s 3am and we four siblings and Dad are assembled in the living room. For the last five days, we’ve all been sleeping by turns, in chairs, on couches, on a mat on the floor. At 1:15am it was all over, but we waited more than an hour for the attending physician to make the declaration. We’ve removed everything from the hospital room except what mattered the most. Two brothers, two sisters, all of us baby boomers, still wondering if we’ve grown up yet. Dad, 81 years old, bone-tired, so grateful for everything.
5. November 22, later in the day. Beef stew and a bottle of Witness Tree Pinot Noir. (In the Chevy Chase liquor store, the owner said he’d be drinking it for Thanksgiving. The name felt right, too.) I’ve gotten a few hours of sleep and it’s the first time I’ve cooked in a week. The stew meat, already braised, came from our beloved neighbor Joanne. All I need to do is cut it up and sear it. I add a couple cups of Dad’s three-week-old jug Merlot, trying to finish off the bottle. Carrots, onions, and potatoes, of course. Just as it’s almost ready--it’s a huge pot for just Dad and my sister and me--another neighbor arrives with three cooked deli chickens and a pasta salad. We thank her profusely and pop them into the fridge for later. As we’re sitting down to eat, my brother returns from the airport with his wife and their two little children. We quickly set more places and open the wine. No one quite knows what to do about Mom’s accustomed seat at the dining table, the one closest to the kitchen. Finally Dad sits in her spot. We all raise our glasses, including the kids with their milk. “To the queen!” says Dad. Bless him.
6. November 23, Thanksgiving. My sister-in-law Jill has the use of her sister’s house, across the Potomac River from our house. Her sister has gone to Ohio for dinner with HER in-laws, but not before grocery shopping before she left town so that Jill could cook us all a dinner. It’s everything Thanksgiving is supposed to be: turkey, sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, pie. A bottle of German Riesling that my cousin had sent us the day before. Before we eat, we take turns giving thanks. My seven-year-old niece has been thinking all day about what she will say. She whispers, I’m thankful grandma didn’t suffer too much. My dad’s eyes are full.