One of the best things about having a sick wife—and, yes, this is me working hard to look on the bright side of a dark situation—is that people practically throw food at us, saving me, the chef in our family, the expense and trouble of cooking.
It all started when Kerry unexpectedly checked into the hospital with heart problems a couple of weeks ago.
Within 24 hours, Kerry’s sisters, Kristy and Kitty, filled the barren shelves of our refrigerator with trays of frozen lasagna, enchiladas, apple pie and Greek yogurt (try it if you haven’t because it’s almost as good as ice cream but healthier) and loads of fresh vegetables. Then people like my father-in-law, Dick, started buying me lunch and dinner every time I looked a little forlorn—which is pretty much all the time these days.
One day, my mother-in-law, Julie, scrounged around in her purse and triumphantly withdrew a $5 bill to stuff into my coat pocket so I could buy a sandwich, which I did. It was delicious, too, piled high with thinly sliced turkey, shredded lettuce, tomato, onion and a thick layer of mayonnaise on bread so French it practically begged to surrender before I even took my first bite.
Once, I got a free chocolate chip cookie from a sympathetic cashier at Noodles—I love their beef stroganoff—because I mentioned that my wife was in the hospital. My family’s received several free drinks in the last two weeks, and my son, Gabe, and I were given free extra-large salads at Red Robin to help balance out the damage we did to our poor bodies with their extra-large hamburgers and bottomless baskets of French fries.
My best friend, Rick, treated Gabe and me to smothered calzones at a local Italian restaurant called Lil’ Nick’s. He also brought Kerry an entire pizza, three-fourths of which was eaten by Gabe, who was still ravenous after eating a large sausage calzone of his own plus at least one-third of mine. Yet he’s as buff as a person can get, and I secretly hate him for it, the youthful athletic bastard.
Then my dad and mom, Clarence and Margaret, treated me and Gabe and my daughter, Lindy, to a fabulous dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, The Elephant Bar, which my grown but malaprop-prone daughter, Rudy, mistakenly refers to as The Elephant Graveyard. Keep in mind that we went out to eat on a weeknight, and it wasn’t even somebody’s birthday or graduation. It was just, “Hey, your mom’s in the hospital, so let’s go spend $80 to eat barbequed ribs and shrimp tonight, OK?”
My brother and sister-in-law, Dave and Kitty, also fed my kids home-cooked meals many times over 14 days, and let them spend the night at their house several times while I sat, half-dozing, beside Kerry’s hospital bed, dreaming about eating wood-fired pizza with her in Portofino on the Italian Riviera. That was a good dream, by the way, because Kerry was healthy and happy, her long blonde hair looked radiant in Italy’s evening sunlight, and the pizza tasted better to me than any pizza we’ve ever had, even the one we snuck into a movie theater one night when we were still in college.
Back in reality, or what passes for it these days, we’ve been eating like wealthy people for several days thanks to the generosity of Gabe’s hockey team. All the parents on the team chipped in and bought us nine pre-prepared dinners from a company called Dream Dinners. Each gourmet-quality meal is packaged and ready to cook. Entrées include delicacies like grilled honey Dijon salmon with roasted sweet potatoes and butter-garlic garden vegetables, or toasted pecan chicken with a wild mushroom rice-and-whole-grain pilaf–the sort of meals we’d order at fancy restaurants if we ate at fancy restaurants, or if they served lemon chicken piccata at Wing Stop, which they don’t because sports fans feel silly ordering chicken piccata for Monday Night Football.
I suppose I mention the food here because kind gestures like these constantly catch me off guard, mostly because I expect people to be self centered and myopic, especially where I’m concerned. I’m not important, or especially likeable, and there’s no particular reason why anybody should care enough about my well being, let alone the well being of my family, to actually do something about it. But some of them do, and it’s pleasantly surprising.
Yesterday, for example, I hardly knew what to say when a co-worker I’ll call Susan—because that’s her name—unexpectedly dropped a shopping bag filled with homemade beef stew, a loaf of French bread and a store-bought pumpkin pie on my desk. She hardly lingered long enough for me to thank her, probably because she’s smart and instinctively knew I might embarrass her by bursting into tears—not because I have troubles, but because I love beef stew and store-bought pumpkin pie better than almost anything in the whole world. I was shocked the pie made it all the way home untouched. To be honest, I was shocked it made it through the day untouched.
I guess the long and short of this tale is that with Kerry ill, my family hasn’t eaten this well since….well, never, actually. Which is nice. I’m also really, really thankful to be surrounded by people who care enough about my family to give us food. Food is very comforting in times of distress, unless it’s intestinal distress. Then food seems extremely unappetizing, even repulsive. Fortunately, our stomachs are fine.
In fact, if there is a downside to this gastronomic holiday we’re on, I suppose it’s that this crisis will eventually pass like a painful kidney stone and we’ll return to our normal routine, which involves eating a lot of roasted chicken and spaghetti, the favorite food of men and children everywhere. But I don’t think it’s going to bother me much, because that will be the day I know Kerry’s going to be fine.