Bringing Dinner Cheer to an Active Elder
An Afternoon with Raleigh
He doesn’t glide across the room with the gracefulness of a gazelle anymore; but given a little extra time and a metal walker, his iron-clad determination will help propel him throughout his ranch-style home. While many older people may be asking “What day is it?” Cousin Raleigh is usually wondering if he’ll be able to fit all the things that he wants to do into the day at hand.
“I’m alone but not lonely,” he says. And, that certainly rings true as his phone impatiently buzzes from callers who have something to share or just want to hear his comforting voice. He is quite the social media meister, emailing his family and acquaintances the latest take on a story of interest or his “Laff” of the day. Sometimes he’s hanging out with new friends on Facebook.
Business affairs and activities seem never-ending, but family experiences with special people in our lives have an expiration date. Even though all our schedules are packed to the brim, my family can always clear space for an afternoon at Raleigh’s place. We pick a time when our agendas line up; then make plans to prepare food for a wonderful family meal. There are just no substitutions for some things in life, such as face-to-face time with the ones we love. On an earlier occasion when we brought dinner, his daughter and grandsons were there, and it was charming to see Raleigh beam with pride at the success of his offspring as they are growing and prospering in life.
Challah and Crisp
When we began to assemble our menu, with a focus on healthy fare, we couldn’t recall if he had any allergies. We phoned to ask if there were any foods he couldn’t eat.
“Oh no,” he responded, “I can eat anything. Bring it on!”
We decided to cook salmon as our main course, since it is usually agreeable to everyone. We created a delicious honey mustard lemon sauce for the salmon. We made corn on the cob, green beans and potatoes, green salad, challah (my daughter’s specialty) and peach/blueberry crisp. We charted the cooking schedule so that everything would be done about the same time. Then we loaded it into the car and dashed out for the half-hour drive to his house.
Food, Family and Fellowship
When my husband, daughter and I arrived at Raleigh’s, we rang the bell first, then headed back to the van to get the food. This allowed Raleigh an extra minute or two to get to the door without feeling rushed. “Come on in,” he welcomed, giving everyone a cautious hug so as not to “spill the beans,” or other aromatic delights in our pots and pans. We were all starving by the time we sat down to eat. The food was still warm when the plates were served, beckoning us to a culinary encounter that we hoped would be as appetizing as the conversation. Raleigh offered a blessing, giving thanks for “the hands that have prepared this bountiful meal.”
“Rev. Dr. Raleigh Daniel Hairston,” who has earned a host of degrees and awards, was buttoned down and relaxed, as he savored his salmon in good “company.” He has a storied background of serving as a cleric, social worker, probation officer, college professor, fraternity scroller and family historian. I was fascinated the first time I saw him in his collar, and witnessed how he worshipped with members, colleagues and friends in the Episcopal Church. He is so highly thought of since his days as a rector and his faith glows even stronger now that he is in his senior years. I’ve seen many of his early pictures, including some depicting his Army life. I look forward to him sharing those stories during our many dinners to come.
Chatting with Cousins
As we ate, another cousin called him from Virginia and he paused his meal to talk to her. The person he was speaking with was having health problems, so he took the time to listen and to share thoughts with her. You never know when you may be having your last conversation with someone. After he hung up, we continued our lively exchange, catching up on the news about other family members and laughing at a funny story here and there. It seemed that we timed our courses out just right, nothing overcooked or too dry. We could tell that Raleigh was glad that we came.
After we washed all the dishes and put them away, we said our good-byes and headed home. It was another successful visit with someone we truly love. We left with full stomachs and warm hearts, dreaming up another mouthwatering menu for a future dinner with Raleigh. Spending time with elders can be so rewarding. Just giving an hour or two of your day to listen to their experiences can truly enrich their lives and yours.
Dr. Raleigh Hairston
It’s easy to get caught up in our lives and neglect those around us who would truly enjoy a little visit now and then. Perhaps there is someone in your life – a mom, dad, sibling, grandparent or friend -- who doesn’t get around as easily as they used to, or who lives alone and would relish a home-cooked meal delivered with love and conversation. If you don’t have time to cook, pick up some take-out and be sure to leave leftovers for them to enjoy later. If a family feud is hindering your outreach, push it aside for a day and share some smiles about the positive things that you have in common. Your relative or acquaintance may not be as lively and sharp-minded as our Cousin Raleigh, but you’ll no doubt detect a twinkle in their eye and a satisfying smile in response to your tasteful act of kindness.