What’s For Dinner?
Clam chowder is an old favorite. My mother nods enthusiastically at the idea. She used to like it, a lot.
Bea is still smiling when I return from the kitchen. The first spoonful goes down okay – not too hot, not too cold. She has more trouble with the second. Her eyes open wide to indicate uncertainty. These days Bea approaches food with circumspection, like a mail order bride on the prairie, confronted by a new husband.
With a little cough meant to demonstrate difficulty in swallowing, she croaks, “Too thick!”
The third spoonful makes her choke.
I explain how flavors we appreciated in youth no longer seem to reach mature taste buds, worn out from overuse at almost 97. Nothing works forever, after all.
Bea is busy moving her tongue from one side of her mouth to the other, as if searching for something. It is not clear whether my message is getting through. Then she hands me a tiny piece of clam. I glance down and realize how many more there must be in the cup.
“Can’t take the clams out of the clam chowder,” I declare glibly. “Wouldn’t taste the same.”
A second clam does it. Bea painstakingly peels the tiny thing off her tongue.
I try avocado. Perhaps the thin slices will inspire memories of dinner with my dad for whom she would delicately slice avocado into salad every night? Bea accepts the avocado, then shakes her head, as if the offering were, in fact, unripe mango. Is this a nasty trick I decided to play now that old age prevents her presence in the kitchen? She glares up at me. Her eyes shout, “Traitor!”
“You used to like avocado,” I say, contrite that this former pleasure has disappeared with the person she used to be.
Applesauce is not something she likes, but it is easy to swallow. (Think, baby food.) Two spoonfuls go down. Bea is making a face. I know there is no use trying for a third.
Finally, I offer chocolate ice cream. She consumes the whole bowl. Now here is a food my mother appreciates, a relatively new discovery for her taste buds, a treat she served my dad over the course of their 56 years together, refusing to have any dessert herself so she could live – Hah! I almost said forever – longer ….