Friday, July 9, 2010

good enough

Matisse "Red Harmony"

"And do you like going there?"  my mother-in-law wonders. 

We were ironing out the schedule for the coming week.  All Wednesday I would be busy at the food bank.

"I do," I say. Glancing at her, a frail Elizabeth II - the same gracious manner, same self-conscious dignity.  And a not dissimilar bewilderment at a world so changed from proper patterns, fallen away from the way things were when she first came to power. 

Cassat "Lady at the Tea Table"

"I do like going there," I say and, seeing that's not enough, enlarge, "I like seeing all the people who come in.  I like talking to them and hearing their stories.  I like putting food in their hands.  Though it does frustrate me - " because now I'm on a roll, unmeasuredly pouring out words as soon as they arise in my mind, " - it sometimes frustrates me that what we have there to hand out . . . and what a lot of them want is not always . . . wholesome?  Lots of packages, additives, lots of convenience foods.  And when we do give them dried beans, rice, oatmeal . . . sometimes they hand it back.  They don't want it.  They don't know what to do with it.  They'd rather just have quick calories."

"I imagine quite a lot of them look like they eat that way," says she, herself small, short with slim hips and broad shoulders. 

"Not really," I say. "No . . . not really at all. Most of them are not overweight at all. And you have to realize, I have to remember, some are homeless, living from their car . . . they have to have a car so they can get to jobs, to interviews? and for them food they don't have to cook is the only way they can feed themselves. And others are short for time, trying to scrabble together jobs here and there, because the box we give them once a month is only enough for three or four days, you know. And for a lot of them? beans and grains, that's just not the food they're used to."

She nods at this. This she understands. Between us we've settled on Eldest going over each afternoon and cooking for her grandparents whatever they want that day. Because the food I serve  . . . is lovely, of course, and a real treat on occasion, but more spicy than we're used to for everyday. . . Lots of beans and unfamiliar greens. Meat too infrequently appearing. Olive oil, which they are avoiding. Garlic. Hot chiles. Half-cooked, uncooked vegetables in a jumble of over-bright colors.  I began so culinarily dense and have wriggled my way to my cooking so excruciatingly that I wouldn't know how to begin to change without starting back at boiling water.

And there's no good reason for them to change, as we both agree.  Because it's good to have the food you've always known - hamburger gravy on toast, mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, meatloaf, green beans in white sauce.

David, "Milk Soup"

It's better to keep some things separate.
"Won't you eat with us?" she kept asking the first month they moved out here. "Wouldn't it be easier to have all our dinners here together."

"On Sunday we'll all eat together.  If you'd like. I've got dinner almost ready at home already today, but I can sit with you and visit for a bit.  If you'd like."

"Why don't you have just a little? It's very good," scooping up chopped luncheon meat in white sauce spooned over toast and few perfectly sodden past-green beans. "You can have a little dinner here and then a little dinner later, can't you?"

"Oh.  I'm afraid that would make too many calories for me."

"Do you have to watch that? I never had to."
Which I remember as not always having been exactly true for her.  But maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention.  She sympathizes, oh, she is so sorry for me that I've had to struggle through the years with weight.

Have I been struggling?  Was I supposed to be?    

Or is it that all the biking and walking and hiking and swimming look like they must be part of a battle to her? A battle I'm not apparently winning in any impressive manner?  And here I thought I was just too given to doing only what I like to do. That I like my pleasures too well, both simple and complex, carbohydrate and endorphin.  That I have too little sense of measure. That I can't often face making myself do things I don't want to do.

That I just don't want to eat white sauce very often.  But have no desire to deprive any other from it, if it be their pleasure.

Sargent "Fete Familliale"

Now I concede, "Of course, there are always some overweight . . . in any group, right? . . . and some, yes . . . there are some, but really there are as many . . . ," wondering how we have gotten here.  I begin telling stories about the young mothers whose eyes are huge in their slender faces, the quiet children, their pleasure over fresh oranges, picking out a small bag of plums: But we want to leave plenty for the others, don't we?  The woman who keeps the goats, bright eyes, short gray hair, skin and bones,  who is looking for someone to take her beloved nannies because she's lost the pasture she'd been renting.  The skinny old lady we suspect of feeding everything we give her to her cancer-ridden husband, her painfully frail wrists and her anxious gestures. 

Kollwitz "Wittwen Klagen der Waisen Krieg an"

"And so many of them are so ready to contribute back what they can."  The ones whose faces light up when they hear that yes, they can plant an extra row and donate garden goods even while they're relying on the monthly box of basics.  Who show up the next month with a bag of lettuce leaves freshly harvested, a box of tomatoes.

I tell her about the couple who saved the entire food bank last Thanksgiving when we had no turkeys to give because our usual donor, the paper mill, had closed its doors and moved out of town.  This quiet, ordinary-looking couple showed up with 20 turkeys and all the trimmings, "You guys were there when we needed you.  We just wanted to give something back." They had emptied out their savings.  That was their Christmas gift to themselves.That giving.

"I'm certainly pleased to hear that," says my mother-in-law, who has never gone hungry. "I hadn't realized. I am surprized."

I am surprised too. At my own vehemence, at the heightened heart-rate and deeper breathing. As if I've evaded some danger.  As if I've been fighting for something unaccountably dear.  I know I've overstated, have shaded the stories to fit my point.

"I just like going there," I say.

"Well, and that's good enough reason," she says. "That's certainly good enough."

Kershisnik "When to Stop"


Mrs. Organic said...

That last painting speaks to me. I must have two or three angels alone assigned to that hopeless task.

Lovely post, lovely words.

suzanne said...

Lovely art. Good words. More than good enough.

ArtSparker said...

Talking with parents sometimes means walking across a minefield.

My father has five Wendy's hamburgers in the freezer.

Moria said...

Oh, beautiful, as always. I love your empathetic voice.

I know the empty-cup feeling you write about below. I'm glad you're not capitulating to it – gives me hope for myself.

girl-interrupted said...

I do like those paintings! Nice blog :)

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