Last weekend took me back to Baraboo, WI to care for my mother and to bask in the beauty of friendship. My mother has lived a respectable 88 years so far, having earned the care of others and the worry of her children along with her now wandering mind and weakening body. I love her; I pray and worry over her—half afraid that doing the one cancels the other. Mostly I am eternally grateful for excellent care lavished upon her in the midst of what feels like, and has become, home to her. And in an unexpected way, it has become home to me as well.
You will be as surprised as I was to find some harrowing scenes centering around a senior living center not unlike my mother’s in Shattered Masks—my sequel to Alabaster Vases, and coming sometime in the next several months. You write what you know, and I’ve come to know every floor tile on every level, from all angles, and in many different lights. Caring for our loved ones takes on many shades, and I feel an unsettling combination of weathered love, mixed with abject panic every time I go ‘home’.
I am blessed beyond measure to have stalwart friends with ever open arms to run to when I come back ‘home’ to Baraboo. These amazing women and men hold my heart still, and keep my spirits lively, as we come together and catch up, often over bonfires and adult beverages. Last Saturday night we added a new tradition: the First Annual Tater Tot Casserole Cook-off.
To have been invited was honor enough. From the start I pledged to cook something up, though my friends said I didn’t need to go to all the trouble. They gave me a graceful exit, knowing that my time is split between hospital and facility visits, the local Wal-Mart, and quick walks at the lake. In an exhausted moment on Saturday afternoon, I nearly took them up on it, this notion of not cooking, but then I came home to myself—somewhere between shopping for ice cream bars and Depends (two separate trips).
Reminded of who I am, I headed to Pierces Country Store, armed with a warm smile and a grateful heart. Realizing, too late, that adding a recipe to my armament might have been a better choice. No matter. Pushing the cart through the aisle mindlessly solved the problem. I eagerly tossed an interesting combination of items into my cart, raced through the checkout lanes, and down the road to get to my mom’s facility—to go ‘home’. Once there, I enlisted the aid of staff members, who graciously allowed me to use their kitchen.
I bundled my mother up in blankets and sat her in a chair to join me as I prepped. Her birdlike movements and milky confusion brought tears to my ears, as they always do, yet it was good to be together in a kitchen again. Two things can be true at the same time.
You know how this is going to end, don’t you? Don’t hate me just because I took home the hardware at last Saturday’s 1st Annual Tater Tot Casserole Cook-off in Baraboo, WI (Most Unique AND 2nd Place overall!) Love my friends because they are creative, and funny, and warm, and reach out to me from another world, drawing me back to the beauty and the power of community, of connection.
Sometimes the balm for the all the woundedness of this temporary world can be found in the layers of a tater tot casserole.