As we waited for delivery of the cart with the food trays I looked across the table and observed the many faces, some looking at me and some with a blank stare. Most were elderly and were there for a temporary stay after a traumatic injury took them away from their normal lives. There was a 97 year old man who served in the Canadian Army after the end of World War II who told stories of his time in France and Italy, helping locals adjust after Allied Forces had defeated the Nazis. He was a lively fellow who appreciated an ear to talk to since he didn’t have many visitors. Gladys was at our table, wearing a helmet, presumably after a head injury. She sat motionless most of the time and ate nothing during the meal. Neighbors to her left and right said that she seldom ate but had a feeding tube that was attended by the nursing staff. Michelle was to my right and was one of Mother’s roommates. She was my age and was one of the youngest in the ward. This is the second facility she had stayed in after having a massive stroke five months earlier. On a long road to recovery, she has a great attitude and a good appetite.
Mother’s dinner arrived. A Western Omelette with potatoes, a green vegetable, a small salad, and a cup of hot tea. She smiled. I’d brought a box lunch from home and I waited until everyone at the table got their tray before removing my roast beef sandwich. “Pat” took it all in. The food, the condiments, the tastes, the textures, the pleasure of the meal. There was no rush . . . no pressure to finish by a certain time. She had all the time that she needed. She had ordered several packets of margarine and she opened one . . . slowly. She dipped a plate knife into the packet and it came out with just a sliver of yellow on the end. She started applying it to the yellow of the egg in her omelette. Methodically, like someone drawing a smiley face on the head of a straight pin. It was perfect. I finished my sandwich.
After the yellow was glistening she started on the white areas of the omelette . . . ever so slowly. I pulled out another sandwich. Pat opened another margarine packet and started on the potatoes. They were cut in wedges, with the sharp side turned upwards. She knew that the melting sunshine wouldn’t pool atop these jagged heaps of carbohydrates and so she jabbed at them with the knife, successfully stabbing them with flavor. She smiled again and I finished my second sandwich.
Green beans and wedged potatoes are a match like no other. Mother knew this long before I ever did and she spread margarine packet number three over the short, cylindrical pieces in a haste. Melted margarine was spreading like hot lava now and the anticipation was swelling in her. It was meant to be. I had been eating a packet of sandwich crackers at this point and decided to put them down. I knew that I ate too fast at times and I was beginning to feel like H. G. Wells in his time machine, now a full day ahead in Mother’s meal.
The last packet of margarine lay in wait for the roll on her plate. I was glad that I was there to see it lathered in golden sunshine. It was awesome.
Salt & pepper packets are convenient and a blessing for those of us on the go. Not for Mother. She told me later that the arthritis in her fingers causes problems at the critical time that the contents are dumped on her food and she has resorted to emptying them instead in the palm of her hand so that she can place thumb and forefinger from her other hand over her palm and take several pinches of the spices and spread them evenly over the entire plate. First, the salt . . . and then the pepper. Logical, sequential, deliberate. I finished my crackers and started eating my large Gala apple.
I looked up and compared my progress with the others at our table. The veteran had finished the sandwich that had been served to him. He was just about done with his salad and he was out of water. “Waiter!” he called. He was obviously in a different place in his mind. Michelle was through with her meal and was eating her cookie. Gladys, well, she didn’t count.
As I started on my packet of cookies, Mother was about to top her salad with ranch dressing. It was just one packet and it didn’t take her long to complete the task. I was concentrating too hard on her movements. I knew it for a fact. My anticipation was growing almost as fast as hers at this point. I had to look away and I briefly pretended to be interested in the tennis game on the dining room television.
A volunteer began collecting trays at the tables. When she came to our table she looked at Mother’s plate and then looked at me. I just smiled. “No hurries,” she said.
I don’t know how many creams and sugars she put in her tea, if any. All I did was ask “Are you going to eat that food or just decorate it?” Pat was at her climax and just ignored me, grinning all the while.
A resident named Anne rolled up to our table, in her wheelchair. “Are you going to stay for the movie? It’s going to start in a few minutes, eh?” I was thinking that we were starring in a movie of our own, Mother & I. Anne was the social butterfly of the ward. In her nineties, she knew every resident and what they were in for. “We’ll probably still be here, Anne” was all I could say.
What happened next was astounding. Mother unwrapped her silverware from the paper napkin and began to contemplate which side of the omelette to start eating. With her fork engaged against the egg she started to wield the knife against one end but stopped and reconsidered. She then removed the fork and spun the plate around at an unbelievable speed. Remarkably, she cut off a piece at the other end, quite unpredictably, and she placed the cut piece in her mouth. Pure Heaven. I guess that you can surmise how the rest of it went.