The phone call finally came. The one I had tried to prepare for and was never prepared for. The one that I dreaded and yet, somehow, did not; he had suffered so much already. “It’s time” my sister said. My father’s second bout with T cell Lymphoma had turned the corner, he was failing rapidly. We had been making the six hour trip religiously for months on the weekends. Packing up the car, the kids, the dog. Arriving late on a Friday night and doing the best we could over Saturday and Sunday to help my mother. My loving and patient husband never complaining, doing the yard work and other maintenance that my father couldn’t manage anymore. Somehow my father’s son and two of my sisters were suspiciously absent, even though he lived not five minutes from my parent’s home, and the sisters lived in town. One of my sisters, who lived states away, whose children were grown and on their own, had taken a leave of absence from her job. She had been there already for two months. Did I mention she was an angel on earth? Another sister, 3 and a half hours away, did what she could with a little one and husband to take care of.
You see, my father wanted to die at home. Among his trees, his birds, and his garden and plants. He wanted to see his Japanese Maple change colors in the Fall. He wanted to smell his peonies. He wanted to be able to sit on his rocking chair on the screen porch and enjoy the paradise that he had made. And a paradise it was! Oh, to many people it wouldn’t seem so— after all, there was no beach, no lake or mansion. Instead there were fruit trees and a huge organic garden, bursting with vegetables. Flowers bloomed everywhere; roses, lilacs, annuals and perennials. Butterflies flitted among the plants and the rabbits had fun teasing the dog. He was a graphic artist by profession, but a farmer at heart. My father was at peace sitting on that porch.
When my sister answered the door, she handed me the baby monitor. “You’re on night watch” was all she said, heading straight for bed. We fell into our routines easily, taking care of my father. It was a privilege. My sister and mother gave the job of feeding him to me, because for some unknown reason, I could get him to eat. I made his Cream of Wheat® just thin enough for him to swallow. I made sure he drank water all day long. I would blow on one teaspoon of coffee at a time, because he still wanted it with his breakfast. I would get right in front of his face (the morphine and cancer making him unresponsive for moments at a time). “Open your mouth, Dad”. “Dad, open your mouth.” “Dad, open”. Until one day he replied, “You’re beginning to bug me...” Even in his drugged induced state he kept his sense of humor. There at the end, and it seems so ridiculous now, I did not want to stop feeding him. The cancer was killing him, and he wasn’t hungry anymore, but I could not, would not let him starve! Because to me, after being raised by a gardener and artist who taught me what real fruit and vegetables tasted like, and a mother that was an amazing cook, food meant comfort. Food meant LOVE.
Within two weeks of arriving at my parent’s home, my father passed away. He waited until the house was quiet. If you knew my extended family at all, you would realize what a feat that was. For the two weeks I was there full-time, my father still had many visitors (relatives and friends). He had endured a rough night before he died. My siblings and I were at a constant vigil at his side, thinking he would die in the night. The next day, he was calm, breathing softly, and some of my sisters left to do some much needed errands. I could not leave. The invitation was presented, but I just couldn’t go. Something (someone?) compelled me to stay, even though it looked like my father was going to stay around awhile. I settled in a chair in the kitchen to knit, listening to his even breathing in the other room. My mother was with me, reading the paper. Getting up to find a measuring tape for my knitting project, I wandered over to his bedside, and leaning over, I whispered in his ear “I love you, Daddy”. I went upstairs, grabbed the tape and stepped back through his room. He took two breaths and was gone.
At his wake, in his memory, we served his homemade wine, made from the grapes he grew in his yard.
My father died in November four years ago. Sometimes it seems like only yesterday, sometimes it seems like it has been forever. How fitting that my father loved lemon, as I bake my Lemon Sweethearts for A Taste of Yellow (over at Barbara’s blog: Winos and Foodies ) and LiveStrongDay. Dad, I know you would have preferred a lemon meringue pie, but I make meringue about as well as you made yeast bread (until you got your bread-maker). If you were alive today, I would serve you a big plate of Sweethearts with a cup of strong black coffee. You would compliment me on my frugal use of okara, cooking and baking with it instead of throwing it away, questioning why I make soy milk anyhow, and bewildered that two of your granddaughters are now vegetarians. We would sit on the porch and watch the birds and laugh at the silly dog chasing the rabbits. Since you are not here, I will take my Sweethearts to my good friend Elaine, a breast cancer survivor for over ten years. We will sit and sip our coffee, share the cookies and reminisce over the loved ones that we have lost...I miss you, Dad.
Lemon Sweetheart Cookies •
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
8 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated white sugar
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup wet okara (this is referring to the okara straight from your machine) or mashed soft tofu
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups unbleached white flour
1 cup dried tart cherries
1 cup chopped white chocolate (or white chocolate chips)
In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and cream cheese well. Add sugar and beat until fluffy, about three minutes. Add lemon zest, salt, lemon juice and okara and mix well. Mix in baking powder and flour. Stir in cherries and chocolate by hand. Drop by teaspoonfuls on parchment lined baking sheets. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until light golden brown around edges. Let cool slightly before moving to wire racks to cool completely. Makes approximately 5 dozen cookies.