Febrary 17, 2000
Kitchen in the Air

Menu planning and food preparations were my father's hobbies.  In preparation for Thanksgiving Dinner, my father used to get out all his back-issues of Gourmet and have Tom Ashley, Cece and I look at the centerfolds.  Our duty was to select the delectable goodies as candidates for Thanksgiving.  We studied and discussed the many goodies searchingly, and finally he would decide which ones we would make. He once joked that Gourmet magazine was a chef's pornography.

Then would come the process of making a shopping list, trips not only to the grocery store, but also to A Southern Season (which at that time was a small gourmet shop next to a Krogers and a laundromat, not the giant specialty food store, cafe, and restaurant that it has grown into today) for herbs, spices, olives, and exotic Melita brand coffee.  Then we would go to a Hickory Farms store (which has now vanished) for the perfect wine with the perfect vintage.

On Thanksgiving Day, my brother and I, out of school, would assist dad in the kitchen. He would assign us to dice, or slice vegetables, stick cloves into the ham, assemble a cheesecloth bouquet garni, or to keep the sautéing onions moving around in the pan.  He would use generous portions of Inglenook Wine for flavor, and of course we would also be sipping some too.

The pleasure of Thanksgiving was mostly in those hours before dinner, the house filling up with great smells, our mouths watering, Tommy (the younger) and I enjoying rare warmth of inclusion in our dad's projects.  It is no wonder that no one seriously complained about eating three hours later than the scheduled dinnertime. It seems to me that our earliest Thanksgiving meal started at 9:00 PM, and our latest at 11:00 PM. Many friends would join us, some of them even better cooks than dad. They too would have been preparing food all day, and there would be enough food to feed 12 to 15 people with mounds of leftovers, some of which might have been suitable for Julia Child.

Later in dad's life, weight and health became more of a concern. Smoking was ceased; diets and exercise were commenced. Craig Claiborne wrote a cookbook about cooking light, which meant that a meal only contained 1500 calories instead of 3000.  I went away to college to gain weight in the college cafeteria, while my twelve-year-old brother began cooking for himself as my dad alienated himself from home.  When I saw dad after that, a different sort of cooking was being done.  More grains, less fat and red meat, but just as many herbs, spices, and techniques as ever.  One year, dad gave me a gift of a measuring cup with its spout coming up from the bottom, designed for pouring nonfat portion off the bottom of a cup full of meat juices.

In 1997, it became apparent that my father could no longer cross the street in Carrboro to shop at Weaver Street Market (a fresh food store owned and operated by its customers) or even prepare meals for himself.  Finding ways to satisfy his craving for fresh and healthy food was getting more and more difficult to coordinate. Then we found a way to get dad into Charles House Adult Day Care, and Shannon, their chef, who always made fresh breads and tasty treats, nourished and gave dad comfort.

I write all this background to put the following in context.  When dad was first admitted to Britthaven, he weighed about 200 pounds, which was just about right for dad.  (He has a big frame, and is 6 "1.')  He had gained weight from under 200 lbs. thanks to his friend and helper Nurse Ann, who made sure that he had healthy snacks available when he got home from Charles House.

When Dad first arrived at Britthaven, he said he was satisfied with the food.  It was the only comfort he found there in the beginning.  As time has passed however, he gained 14 pounds, needed bigger clothes, and staff members started joking with him about his weight gain, not knowing a Broadway performer's vanity.

(Incidentally, thanks to a Dr. Boustani at Britthaven, dad is now being treated with music and rest instead of tranquilizers when he gets agitated, and I have noticed an improvement in his speaking ability.  That was a great triumph, I thought.)

I am not sure, but this may be why last week when I visited dad, he told me he had something serious to talk to me about. That serious thing was "Food."  Dad is tired of foodservice food. Perhaps it is his weight gain, or perhaps it is his craving for exotic textures and tastes. It may be his concern for nutrition.

"We need a chef," he said.  "This has gone on too long, and there's a lot of money [involved]."   He must have noticed a preponderance of fried potatoes in his meals.  Again, he makes an important point about the care of Alzheimer's and dementia victims.  These folks need the very best nutritional program to keep their minds as healthy and active as possible.  His point is that he and his fellow travelers in nursing homes may be paying for less than the most advanced life sustaining diet.

Anyone who has had hospital food knows that this is probably true.  We also know that less nutritional foods are less expensive and easier to store than others.

Oh dad.  I wish that I could please you, give you all your wishes, and make it better for you.  There are so many aspects of eldercare that need improvement in our society.  This is a new one to occur to dad, and he has given me his message.  He knows that my husband David's hobby is gourmet cooking, and he asked me if it were possible to get David to come and be a chef at Britthaven.

Well, what is possible is for me to write.  And so I do.  I can write, and I can pray.  Once I thought it was possible that I could save the world.  Now I know that I can't even save my own father.  But I know that people read what I write, and what I say often echoes other voices around the country who have similar concerns.   So dad, I give you my voice to tell your friends what you tell me.  And dad, that has been helping.  Really, it has.  People are listening to you.  Your sacrifice is you, and your gift is your words, which may help you, but will surely help a coming generation of Alzheimer's sufferers.

Maybe heaven is a fashionable kitchen with all the latest and finest gadgets, each of which has its own uncluttered storage space.  The refrigerator is an aluminum-front-double-door job, and the cook top is gas with a large vent hood.  There is a ton of marble counter space, and handsome laminate cutting boards are built in.  There are enough bookshelves to keep all the cookbooks and a willing assistant scanning the magazines for recipes and typing them into the computer so as not to be overrun with back-issues.  And of course the kitchen has a great sound system.  And my brother and I will be there chopping vegetables and stirring the sauté, and all our friends will be coming over later to languish on the kitchen floor with a glasses of 1958 Beaujolais while waiting for the very late meal to be ready.

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Besides Tommy's section of the site, the following pages are also related to Jesse and Tommy:
Blurred Time "The Sleeper": the aftermath of Jesse and Bobbie's car accident
Mike Craver's "Visiting Tommy"
Roots of the Red Clay Ramblers:
Fuzzy Mountain String Band: Jesse's mom, Bobbie, recorded with Rambler Bill Hicks and others
Hollow Rock String Band: Tommy and Bobbie Thompson named this band for their community

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February 17, 2000