“Can you come and clean this house of ours?” croaked her weak voice. “We have guests coming and I’m still too weak to do it.”
“Of course! How does Sunday sound?”
Relief in her voice.
I told her not to worry about lunch, that I would bring the two of them some food, serve it, and clean the kitchen afterwards.
Cassie, Caroline, and I spent a good part of Saturday in our kitchen preparing the healthiest food we could think of to serve these dear folks as they continued to battle the Cold of the Year. I made a big pot of homemade chicken soup, fresh from some stock I’d just simmered up from a free-range chicken we’d had on Monday. Added to the stock were nutrient-rich veggies and tender chicken along with fresh herbs and seasonings. Yes! “This smells like the best sort of remedy!” Tom said as he followed his nose to the steamy-windowed kitchen.
Cassie and Caroline began stirring up the dough for french baguettes, the flour puffing around them as they kneaded with vigor.
Added to these intoxicating aromas was the heavenly scent of three loaves of Honey Whole Wheat bread. "Will there be any for me?" begged Tom, again following his nose. "You betcha!"
On Sunday, when we took our carefully chosen and prepared foods to our patients, along with our cleaning supplies, we were greeted with fatigued faces, stoopy shoulders, and gratitude. They looked a bit ragged and sounded worse.
Immediately it was clear to me that their spirits were in need of something new, something different, something stimulating. They were firmly stuck in the sickness rut where mere survival is the effort of every day. From the box of Christmas gifts the girls and I had wrapped the night before, I handed a gift to each ailing person. A little spark ignited in their eyes, yep, I saw it. Everyone has a little kid in them, a kid who responds to gifts, to Christmas, and most especially to love. It was sweet to watch this couple, married for sixty years, as they slowly opened each gift, registering delight and wonder.
After cleaning for a couple of hours I stopped to heat the soup and bread and to slice some sweet juicy oranges. The girls set the table. The couple remained melded to their recliners - tired, but warm and relaxed. The sight, sound, and smell of food being prepared and carried to the table seemed to energize them. Heads lifted from pillowed chairs.
After a few slow bites I noticed their spoons moving quicker. Repeatedly knives in steady hands scraped at butter to smear on bread. These two ailing people quit talking altogether, lost in the food, lost in the instinct to eat and be well.
“I think they like it, Mama. They’re quiet,” Cassie said. We all laughed. I thought of Oliver Twist asking, “Please sir, I want some more.” Oliver didn’t receive his ‘more’ but these two did. They actually closed their eyes in bliss as they bit into each orange wedge as though tasting the sweet citrus for the first time, savoring its deliciousness, even though they’ve been eating oranges for 80 years.
Pink returned to their faces right away and energy to limbs. They began to talk, to laugh, to make jokes, to thank us, to tell stories as we worked around them. Jolliness took over the household.
After our lunch dishes were washed and the leftover food clearly marked and stored for subsequent meals, Cassie, Caroline, and I grabbed dust rags and Pledge. We began the cleaning of table tops, book shelves, chairs, and nic-nacs. Everyone crowded around me as I cleaned the china cabinet, for the grandpa and grandma were recounting histories of the treasured items. Up and out of their chairs, bending to reach a little crystal pitcher here, a teapot there, these two were markedly different from the wispy, pale folks who greeted us in the morning. Revitalized, even their voices were stronger.
Cassie drove us home through rain and bits of snow in substantial traffic. As the wipers thunked and air leaks shrilly whistled, my mind whirled as I contemplated the difference that the gifts of love, labor, and food had made to my loved ones. “I feel like a princess, as though my house is cleaning itself right before my eyes!” said the appreciative granny, relieved of her burden. “Thank you for that delicious food! I can’t wait for supper tonight!” said the grandpa who had been frequenting the supermarket deli for sticky, preserved food during the previous three weeks of illness. I didn’t know.
Rather than dreading upcoming visitors, Granny and Gramps now eagerly look forward to sharing their home and holiday.
Cassie and Caroline learned first hand the gifts of gentle care and service to those in need.
I am relieved that these precious people are safe and cared for right now.
Christmas has come early for the four of us.