For the love of food
I am a man who loves to eat. Pat is a woman who loves to cook. Together, we make a terrific couple.
Even though I'm nearing seventy, the memory of the first day we met is still sharply etched in my mind. I was sixteen, all arms, legs and bones. The rain had been relentless and the taunting smell of frying meat that emanated from the eating parlor was too much of a temptation. I slipped in quietly in the hopes of a warm fire and perhaps a cup of tea.
I turned to see if there was someone else behind me. There wasn’t. I turned back to the girl in front of me.
"Yes sir. What would you like to eat?"
She couldn’t be a day over thirteen, but she had the carriage of someone much older.
Regretfully, I shook my head. I didn’t have enough money for a plate of food.
"A cup of tea."
She seemed to be about to ask a question or two but didn’t. As she left me, I found a seat and slumped into it.
The smell of food woke me. Fried eggs, buttered bread, a leg of chicken, and a huge cup of tea. "Hey, Miss…"
"Pat." She replied, appearing like an elf in front of me.
"There's a mistake. I…"
"Just eat. My mama owns the shop and I like to be kind. Besides, I cook most of the meals around here."
I wanted to object but my stomach suddenly growled.
I went back there again and again, and I discovered Pat wasn’t thirteen but fifteen. She never had to give me free food again for I never went back without enough money.
A year later, I asked her out on a walk.
On her eighteenth birthday, I gave her an engagement ring.
"Reminiscing again?" I look up to see her approaching. Age and time has not been kind to her but she hasn’t lost the ability to make my heart flutter like that of a young lad.
"What have you been up to?"
"Been making dinner for that young woman next door. You know she just lost her husband."
I nod in earnest as images of Pat bent over the cooking stove assail my mind. Through our bout with childlessness, she cooked for others, drowning her sorrow in a sea of broth. Through her fight with cancer, she cooked for me, my meals distilled with great plops of her tears. In joy and in sadness, in sickness and in health, she cooked. And because she cooked, I ate.
And in the kitchen, in that place where she felt completely at home, she prayed.
We never had a child, at least biologically, but today we are proud grandparents of some neighborhood kids. Pat still has an occasional fight with her cancer because it never went into remission but the joy in her life far outweighs the pain.
"Even though she's too proud to ask, I think she needs help with her lawn."
I am startled out of the past. "What did you say?"
"Clara needs help with her lawn?"
"Clara. The woman next door."
"Why don’t you help her? I'll make you some cookies." She doesn’t give me a chance to reply but turns smartly and heads for the kitchen.
I chuckle lightly and reach for the remote to the TV. It's quarter to five. Still plenty of time to attend to Clara's lawn. And Pat's cookies.
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