Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hawaiian Chicken

Another Mother's Day will shortly be upon us and I continue to struggle with the indignities thrust upon my mom. She tries so hard but even she finds it increasingly difficult to put up a good facade for my sister and me. Most often she can't even muster up a fake 'everything is fine'. I know she rails internally against the fate that has robbed her of almost all that made life pleasurable. The joys of friendship, of meaningless and meaningful banter with those she has known for years, are gone. In its place is mostly emptiness. Time has become her enemy.

Gail and I find our weeks involved comparing notes as to who will spend part of his or her day in mom's company. Gail is able to get mom to tag along with her on many of her activities, and so can fill up a few hours with 'chores'. My sister constantly worries and frets about what she can do to keep mom occupied. Often, after having spent hours in her company, Gail is exhausted emotionally and physically.

I do not have the capacity to fill up as much space in mom's life. She is not comfortable being a guest in our apartment as this seems to mean that she has just traded one set of walls for another. Nothing there seems capable of capturing her attention or relieving her restlessness. She has to feel the energy of the world, and see it with her own eyes. I am definitely not a shopper, so, my mom and I have become very frequent lunch and dinner companions.

Try as I might, it is impossible to find a restaurant, apart from one overpriced and noisy steak house, that my mom really enjoys. I think she only finds that one acceptable because it is overpriced. Most lunches, at least during the week, are at old familiar places in Teaneck where we have been dining my entire life.

One of the abilities that has deserted my mom is the capacity to decipher a menu, and decide on a choice of food. Thus, my sister or I end up telling her what 'she likes' and ordering for her. Grilled cheese on whole wheat has become a staple for lunch.

Another recurring theme concerns the amount of food on her plate. Too much will cause her agitation. Now, there is always an extra plate to funnel off the excess. You can see mom breathe easier when this happens. She seems to push her food around, and takes no joy in the exercise of eating.

As little interest as my mom can muster up for what is before her, is how much she can focus her attention on your food. Her query, "have you eaten enough", or some minor variation on that theme, is a repetitive drumbeat that accompanies every dining experience.

I swear I put on 10 pounds in the last year just trying to be certain that my mom won't complain about my level of consumption. Sometimes I make the mistake of eating my meal too quickly. Because my mom is not able to retain real time events in her mind, she will forget what I just swallowed and remind me repeatedly that I ate no food. I often pleadingly give multiple recitals of chapter and verse of every morsel that entered my mouth, but to no avail.

The 3 way relationship of food, my mom and me has seemingly always had its traumas. I cannot look at a leg of lamb without recoiling in horror, remembering the overcooked little chop that sat on my plate seemingly throughout my childhood. No matter how much mint jelly I tried to coat that piece of meat with, it was never edible.

There was however, one notable exception. My mom's Hawaiian chicken required 2 days to complete. The chicken was cooked one day, then fried the next (or so I remember it almost a half century later). Dole pineapple was thrown into the mix, and then the entire concoction was set over a bed of white rice. This meal seemed to me more than about food. It was a feast of perfection and a declaration of my mom's love.

Those days are in another time and another world. They seem like they could have happened in another life. Today is filled with grilled cheese sandwiches and extra plates for food. Yet, I try every day to recall that my mom is not the lost person before me, but forever that person standing in the kitchen preparing my favorite Hawaiian chicken. The memories of those long ago days may be faint, but the feelings they evoke are real and ever present.


Nancy Leeds said...


This recipe sounds like what you described. You're all invited to my house with your mom for Hawaiian Chicken. Pick a weekend. Love, Nancy

Robert said...

it would be our pleasure. My mom at the Leeds with all that good cooking. Certainly an intersection of life.