The Holy Casserole

Potluck Trinity

Potluck Trinity

My friend, Anna, had a tough day today, so I am making her a pan of brownies.  It’s what you do, right?  When Spencer died, Anna rang my doorbell with a pan of brownies and a hug.  Come to think of it, I still haven’t returned that pan.  BAD NEIGHBOR.

Feeding each other is what we do when no other comfort seems possible.  You are upset–here, have a brownie and know that I love you.  You are grieving–a little potato salad will make you feel something, if not better.  You are exhausted–here is a casserole and a set of paper plates and let me even dish out a little of that for you and heat it up no no stay where you are baby you need to rest.  

Feeding each other is what we do.  When you have a baby, Barb makes blueberry pound cake that is better than the epidural.  Erica delivers “Maternity Burritos,” these wonderful veggie burritos with lots of healthy stuff that freeze beautifully and can be eaten with one hand while you’re nursing a baby.  When both of my babies were born, my mother took over the kitchen and turned out baked chicken, pot roast, squash, lima beans, fish tacos, new potatoes, biscuits, cornbread dressing, beef stew–whatever we wanted. Robin sends one meal a week after the mama has started back to work.  Grandmama Irene never goes visiting without a cake in a white cardboard box.  Grandmama Eunice could fry up a chicken before the funeral home picked up the dear departed.  

 My crotchety neighbor, Mrs. Namewithheld, makes a lemon meringue pie that is almost worth dying for.  The neighbor on the other side brings pound cake still warm from the oven.  When Richard was suffering the effects of chemo and could barely eat anything, my sister and her husband cooked anything he named that might interest him.  They packed cassoulet, lamb stew, lentil soups, homemade gelato, in little freezer packs and drove it up to him in Baltimore.  One night when I had slipped into the thousand yard stare at Johns Hopkins, she ran up a sampler plate from the Lebanese place in DC because I liked it.  There was a market a few blocks from Johns Hopkins.  Richard could barely stand the smells in there, but he went with me on my shopping trips to “keep me safe.”  One stand offered homemade Korean food.  We bought it several weeks in a row and the sweet grandmother who ran it, when she noticed that Richard was losing weight, started making him special soups and setting them aside for him.  My father baked a batch of fruitcake cookies and sent them to Baltimore because he and Richard were the only ones in the family who liked them.  To this day, Daddy can’t make fruitcake cookies without thinking of him.  

The night Richard died, I called my Daddy and told him.  Well, I sobbed out something and he knew.  He asked if he should come that night and I said we would be OK until morning.  He was there the next day, with a cooler full of pimiento cheese and barbecue pork. It’s what you do.  After the memorial service, Richard’s parents had planned to have tea, coffee and sandwiches in the reception hall for those who had come.  It was lovely–I don’t remember much from it.  None of us, however, had planned for the 30 people who wandered back over to our house after the church doings were over.  I was getting a little nervous about not having anything for the crowd.  My brother walked out to his car and returned carrying a 15 lb ham, cooked to perfection and sparkling with glaze.  My brother in law guffawed–“What?  Do you just carry a ham around with you?”–and Joe answered, “Someone died.  I made ham.  It’s what you do.”  

This reminds me of one of my favorite jokes:  An elementary school teacher was teaching her class about world religions, so she asked each child to bring in something that represented their religion.  The next day, the teacher called on a student, “Samuel? Show us what you have brought.”  Samuel came to the front of the room and said, “I am Jewish and this is a yarmulke.  Jewish men use it to cover their heads in synagogue to show respect.”  The next little girl, Maria, came to the front of the class.  She held up a crucifix and said, “My family is Catholic.  We hang the crucifix in our home to remind us of Jesus suffering on the cross.”  The teacher called, “Betty Lou?  Would you like to show us what you brought?”  Betty Lou walked up to the front of the class and said, “I’m a Baptist and THIS is a casserole dish!”

What’s your go-to dish in times of trouble?  Do you carry a ham in the backseat of your car at all times?  

27 thoughts on “The Holy Casserole

  1. Tara

    Sour cream poundcake–sometimes with a praline glaze, sometimes not, just depends. And for new baby meals I’ve done a crock pot pork roast and rolls and veggies. But the poundcake is my mainstay. Loved your stories. Brought back lots of memories.

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  2. Paula Watson

    My neighbors get a huge pot of homemade chicken and dumplings, green beans, homemade biscuits, a pan of cheesecake squares and a gallon or two of tea. Food helps heal the soul.

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  3. kittiescreativekitchen

    I so understand this down to the bone. When my dad died & I went to see some friends who are like family, the husband half of the team who’s Italian was already in the kitchen making up a huge pot of pasta to take to my mother. Still gives me a warm fuzzy. And I remember when my best friend had back surgery she didn’t live near me at the time, but my brother did live near her & showed up with an entire smoked turkey for her. You gotta love the love involved in giving food & sustenance to folks who are potentially unable to do if for themselves or in such a state that food becomes a burden. Awesome blog post!

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  4. onehappygardener

    What do you do when you want to default to your traditional offering of food, but they are on a strict diet and too ill to really eat anyway? Taking brownies and casseroles seems wholly inappropriate. Maybe they are diabetic. Or maybe they must lose 30 lbs by next month to qualify for the lung transplant list. Is low fat chicken soup enough? But maybe they hate chicken. There’s always the ubiquitous fruit basket. But maybe they hate fruit. Or can’t chew. Or they have food allergies. I don’t know…can we be kind without using food? Flowers are certainly non-caloric, however they fade so fast and are frankly, a waste of good money. The “if you need something please call” offer may be well-intended, but it puts the initiative onto the poor sick person who doesn’t want to be a burden in the first place, and it rarely happens that the call comes. Is a card enough? How about a call to ask, “What do you need? Really need?” When the response comes back, “Oh I don’t know, just your prayers,” is that enough? In the absence of knowledge, contributing meaningfully can be such a shot in the dark. On the other hand, over-thinking it can be the death of kindness. Sometimes is just the gesture enough? So they hate fruit. So they can’t swallow your chicken soup. So flowers make them sneeze, or they have already been sent a boatload of flowers all of which require attention, and it would seem they truly have all their physical needs covered. Kind words over the phone or in a note, or face to face, letting them know that they are loved and supported, that you are there for them, holding them in your heart, sending good vibes, listening if they want to talk, talking if they want to listen, or just keeping it short and sweet, feels like a pretty great gift to me. Am I enough? Is giving my time, my presence, my prayers, and my heart enough? Can that be considered doing a person enough service? Is that nourishment enough? Is it? “What can I give Him poor as I am, if i were a shepherd I would bring a lamb, if I were a wise man I would do my part but what can I give Him, give Him my heart.” You bet it is.

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    1. Baddest Mother Ever

      Case in point: when Richard was on chemo, he couldn’t stand the smell of flowers. So when people sent us arrangements, I didn’t spend moments resenting the fact that they didn’t do research to discover that flowers weren’t the best gift at the time. I took a photo of the flowers, wrote a thank you note, then donated them to the hospital or to neighbors. The gift was received in joy and passed along in joy. Same with food.

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      1. onehappygardener

        Thanks so much. I suppose the worst thing is doing nothing. I’m pre-heating the oven right now! Namaste.

  5. maryhelenc

    I don’t always bring food. Sometimes I bring booze lol.

    Most of the time, I bring people to me. Tell them to come to my house and I’ll make spaghetti while we watch bad movies and shut out life for two hours.

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  6. Heather Bradley

    I have a friend who I met through a Facebook game who is very wealthy. Owns her own jet, has houses on three continents, has never done housework in her life wealthy. One time she was in Atlanta and we decided to get together for lunch. Over the course of our five hour lunch we talked about many things, but mostly the differences in our lives and the similarities in our views and personalities. During the course of our conversation I found out something very interesting….the super rich don’t eat casseroles….kind of like how I don’t eat potted meat and pickled eggs or pigs feet. My response: What do you do when someone DIES? Her response: We send condolence cards. Why the hell would you send food to commemorate a dead person? (An aside: a condolence card isn’t something you pick up from a Hallmark store. It’s a custom printed card from some chi chi store (Usually Tiffany’s…I mean, who knew they did stationary?) that is edged in embossed black, with your monogram in black letters on the front, that you write a personal note inside…kind of like a “thank you” note on it’s an “I’m sorry someone died” note)

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    1. Baddest Mother Ever

      Oh, you can get that stationery at any nice shop! I have some Crane with the heavy black border….widow notes. I think it would be cold and sad to grieve with catered trays and notes. I’d rather have Tara’s praline pound cake and a pot of chicken and dumplings!

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  7. debrahelwig

    I’ve been referring to the chaotic few weeks after my dad died last October as “the procession of fried bird, pound cake, and pimiento cheese.” And I wouldn’t have traded one ounce of any of it – because there was love baked into every single bite. Those foodstuffs gave voice to feelings that people couldn’t express in words. When I tote, I pretty much always take a loaf of banana bread and homemade jam – and the rest depends on when I found out and how long I have to prepare. What I figure is, it doesn’t matter WHAT I show up with, as much as the fact that I showed up at all.

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  8. Susan Fliegel

    No self-respecting Southern woman would be caught dead without a casserole in the freezer that can be taken to the bereaved at a moment’s notice. That helps us remember that anything can happen, and that food and a hug can be the best medicine. And it doesn’t matter if they can’t eat chicken, or are diabetic, or have food allergies (though all food gifts should be labeled). We know they will have people in and out of the house for days, and this way those people can be fed without the grieving family having to do any work harder than pointing to the refrigerator and microwave. Food shows you care. As stated, “It’s what you do.”

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    1. Baddest Mother Ever

      You said it! I remember, as a child, being so impressed by the women of my community who had the forethought to label dishes and spoons with masking tape names. My mother has been known to keep all those plastic cutlery/napkin combos that come with takeout so that they can be deployed with the casserole!

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  9. Heart To Harp

    “it doesn’t matter WHAT I show up with, as much as the fact that I showed up at all.” And that’s the truth! Your post brought back so many memories of when my mother died. Amidst the fried chicken and pound cake and casseroles someone brought a gallon of Bryers vanilla ice cream and stuck it in the freezer. It’s what my dad and my aunt and I tucked into the night after the funeral. No bowls, just spoons digging into the cardboard carton. I don’t know how anyone manages the task of getting through viewings and funerals without a full stomach – but that’s just my Southern proclivities showing.

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