I know what I know without even knowing I learned it. I come from a family planted in fertile soil, seeds surrounded by blankets of dirt, looking skyward for warmth. My family lives for the possibility of sprouts that grow into a summer meal—golden smells of sautéed onions and garlic, steamy clouds of gently boiled corn on the cob, blanched green beans and ruby tomatoes oozing sweetness.
* * * *
(1983. Dad and mom with monster tomato from dad's garden).
Dad didn’t feel like eating. Mom told the nurses, “We’ll eat when our kids get here.” This is a problem since we are scattered across the country. Dad has been in decline since his winter flu. He has lost what was left of his independence, needs help moving from his wheelchair to his recliner or bed and he no longer takes care of his colostomy bag. I’m pretty sure he’s depressed even though he claims he doesn’t know what depression feels like. I told him that depression isn’t always weepy; often it’s like trudging through ankle-deep mud on a cold and gray day. Everything takes too much effort—even eating.
My siblings and I were home last week. I hoped he would eat. I peeled back the bright green leaves and ran my fingers over the tender kernels. It was the first pick of Wisconsin sweet corn. On top of everything else, dad said it hurt to chew. Attempts to pinpoint pain were like finding Waldo—except Waldo was everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
If words had flowed more freely, he probably would have said, “Pain? As compared to what . . . yesterday? About the same. Compared to a time when it didn’t hurt? Can’t remember that far.”
I made sweet corn polenta and a zucchini, green bean ratatouille. I wasn't sure if it was fair but I hoped the tastes of summer would restore his imagination.
* * * *
(Oxlip, Minnesota, District 690 School).
I’m sitting at the table in the front of the one room country school with my fellow second graders. My brother and sister sit at their desks doing independent work—the fourth and sixth grades will work with Mrs. Erickson at the front table after lunch.
“See Dick run. See Jane run. Run, run, run.” My soprano voice rings clear and confident with the joy of letters becoming words.
Mrs. Erickson is a much-loved magician. She moves learning around the room like an elixir. Yet there is something palpable about being in the same room as those who know more than you and those who are learning what you already know, especially when they are your siblings.
(Me—front row with the paisley shirt (of course). My very blonde sister and brother in the row behind me).
We hear the front door open and close. Small stomachs begin to mumble as savory urgent smells begin to waft up the stairs and into the school. Mom has just delivered our hot lunches. All of our classmates have tin lunch boxes with cold sandwiches, bologna or peanut butter and jelly, their lunches wait silently in the hallway cupboard. We have something that smells like mom’s kitchen, maybe Sloppy Joes, or chicken broccoli casserole or roast beef and mashed potatoes, steaming their way to our desks.
* * * *
I stirred the polenta, creamy and rich. The ratatouille bubbled softly and released a medley of summer’s memories around our family 50's Formica kitchen table, feet barely touching the floor. But I am no longer a child and my offering did not fix this one. Dad only consumed a child’s portion. The food was pushed around his plate like lost treasure. Love is not always consumed. Sometimes it remains on the plate and bears witness to our intention, the offering of something ineffable. The cycle of life that revolves around the sun, begins where it ends and ends where it begins. It’s almost too beautiful, too painful, to eat.
Daily Bites and Blessings
Welcome to "Daily Bites and Blessings." Pull up a chair. I’ve set a place for you at the table. These edibles are sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet and often they are both. This is a come as you are party. I invite you to bring your compassion, courage, and curiosity as we dine together on life's bounty. May our time together give us more light and more love.