My Nana and Papa lived in a little ranch home with a nice in ground pool. Two bedrooms and a bath, a small kitchen, small living room and a little den at the end of a narrow hallway. We are all summer babies so most of our birthday parties were there. My mom moved herself and us three kids into that little ranch where we lived while she worked on getting us a home. Back then I didn't realize it, but living in a crowded house now I can see how much of a sacrifice that was for them to let us all live there.
My Nana made the best chop suey, loved to laugh, and changed her curtains more often then some change their underwear. I will never forget the last ones she bought... they had little hats as tie backs. I think they are still hanging. She always brought me shopping for school clothes because I was not fun to shop with and nobody else could stand me and when she did, we always got Filet of Fish sandwiches at McDonald's afterwards.
My Nana died suddenly of a heart attack when I was 10 years old and it was horrible. She was really young and our family was devastated. We were all so close that there wasn't a moment in a day where she wasn't missed by everyone... still isn't.
Shortly after Nana died, Papa was diagnosed with bladder cancer. I'm not sure if it was my idea... I'm pretty sure it was my mom's, but one Friday she dropped me off at their house with ground beef, an onion, a can of peas and some potatoes. I made a meatloaf with baked potatoes and peas and waited for Papa to get home. He ate it and told me I was such a good cook that he should get me a chef hat. I was beyond happy to be taking care of him and that he liked my meatloaf. I had succeeded at showing him I cared about him.
Later that night as I laid in 'my room' watching The Golden Girls and Papa was fast asleep, I started to get scared. I called my mom crying and she talked me into staying.
I went Friday after Friday with the same ingredients... and Friday after Friday, he would eat and tell me how good it was and mention my need for a chef hat. And every week when he went to sleep, I was scared... but it was worth it to me.
That was 1990 and my Papa has battled his cancer on and off since. But you would never know it.... he just never complained.
On my birthday this year I got the news that they found 3 other types of cancer in my Papa and had given him 2-6 months to live. On August 4th, I went and visited him. I sat down next to him and we held hands the whole time I was there. That hour is an hour I will always cherish.
Later that week, I made him a meatloaf.
He probably wasn't able to woof it down like he used to. And I didn't get to enjoy it with him or hear him tell me how good it was. But the thing is, even though I never did get that chef hat, I know I make good meatloaf.
There aren't many things I say I'm good at. And usually I don't decide myself that I am, it takes someone else telling me I am for me to believe it. Like foiling hair... I am so critical of myself and such a perfectionist that it took hundreds of huge smiles after I finished doing hair for me to be able to say I'm good at foiling hair. But even after 13 years of foiling hair, I still second guess my ability.
Not meatloaf. I know I make a good meatloaf because when I didn't, my Papa said I did. I make a good meatloaf because at just 10 years old, he trusted me to cook alone in his house and let me learn by my mistakes without ever pointing them out. He never said I should add more salt, or next time try this or that.... He just let me grow into my own. I'm sure some days my meatloaf wasn't good. Or maybe the potatoes weren't cooked right or the peas were cold. He never critiqued me. He just ate it and smiled for my heart's sake.
And I thought I was serving him....
What a gift he gave me.
When I make a meatloaf, my entire family right down to the baby LOVES it. I don't do it often because beef is expensive now and we're a lot of people... but when they ask what's for dinner and I say meatloaf... they get so excited. And I just smile as the smell fills the house and think back to the first Fridays I loved. I'm good at this because my Papa never told me I wasn't.
Papa isn't doing well now. And I haven't seen him in a while because he gets too tired for company. We are at month 4 of the 2-6 months and I'm scared to death to hear he is gone. I have so many regrets about how life can sweep us away and years pass so quickly. We can get so wrapped up in the busy world around us that we stop making meatloaf and we can get so focused on ourselves that when someone else makes a meatloaf we tell them how it could be better... we add salt before we taste it or get up and toss it in the microwave because it's not the right temperature.
I think back to that little insecure girl missing her Nana.... scared of the dark... determined to take care of my Papa who was fighting cancer, also missing my Nana, and probably not so fond of the nights himself. And I hope that my meatloaf was everything to him that my heart hoped it to be. But more than that I hope he knows how much him liking it was to me. Because had he told me he would prefer it another way, I probably would have changed my dish and eventually given up. A few consistent, encouraging words each week and it built my confidence and kept me striving to make him the best meatloaf ever each and every Friday.
I'm not sure what kind of childhood you had... if people built you up or tore you down.... but I just felt like I wanted to share about my Papa and remind myself too that it's so important to build people up. Nobody ever gets good at making meatloaf because you tell them how horrible their last one was.
I can so quickly get critical. It comes naturally to me. But when people do it to me, it breaks my spirit. And that's the last thing I want to do to my children. I want them to think their cookies... their artwork... the way they cleaned the toilet... where they go and what they do in life...is the best I've ever seen. I want to fill them with life giving words that will propel them to want to be more and do better. I pray I always remember what it felt like to sit at the table with Papa each Friday and know that he thought I was good at what I was doing. To remember what it felt like to never have to worry if he was going to say he didn't like it. To get better and better at it because he let me be less than perfect.
And this photo was at Rachel's 1st birthday at her grave. All the kids look so small... Jay is holding a daisy with her left hand... and Asa was brand new tucked in my ergo. So much has changed in 3 short years. I now have a completely different understanding of the statement "At least I have my health."
I'm not ready to say goodbye to this man. I'm glad I got the chance to tell him the impact he had on me, but I don't think words will ever do it justice. I just hope I can pass down even just a bit of what he did for me on those simple Friday afternoons.
And I hope I never take health or meatloaf for granted again.