Gold nuggets and Paula Dean’s macaroni and cheese

“I made really good macaroni the other day,” my dad says. “I used that hunk of cheese out there,” and he nods in the direction of the second refrigerator in the laundry room.

I feel like I have just been handed gold nuggets. Dad doesn’t speak much anymore, and just hearing his voice form coherent words is a tremendous prize for me.

“It wasn’t the other day,” Mom says, correcting him. She can’t help herself. She’s trying to be helpful and keep the conversation in the realm of reality. We all do it with each other, “It wasn’t the trip to Michigan,” I’ll correct my husband. “It was the year we went to Hilton Head.” It’s just that with Dad’s loss of the ability to tell time, in any kind of fashion, he gives Mom lots of opportunities to correct him.

But I don’t need Mom’s help to keep us in the here and now. I’m willing to enter the world of anything goes with my dad. I know Dad didn’t make macaroni the other day.

“Let’s make macaroni the next time I come,” I say. “Would you like to help me make your macaroni recipe?”

Dad nods. No gold nuggets this time.

That was last week.

This week when I visit, Dad is going back to bed for a late-morning nap. I slip into the bedroom, give him a hug and tell him I’m going to the grocery for the macaroni and cheese ingredients. We’ll make it when he wakes up. He nods.

A few hours later I have accomplished most of the things I set out to do today. I got Mom lunch and then went to the grocery. I also got Mom’s LifeLine medical alert set up. If she were to fall and hurt herself, I’m not sure my dad would be much help. I’m not even sure he would have the first idea of what to do. He doesn’t know how to use the phone anymore.

When Dad gets up, Mom rewarms the burger and fries I bought earlier for him. He eats all the fries, but is kind of pokey with the sandwich, so I get the hunk of cheese out for him to grate. He does a good job at this while I hold the grater over the bowl so that nothing spills over the edges.

I start the water for the macaroni and try to encourage Dad to eat his sandwich, but even after Mom cut it in half for him at his request, and after I melted extra grated cheese on it in the microwave, he just moves it around a little bit on his plate, but doesn’t eat it.

Dad slowly whisks the three eggs in a bowl, and then I take the bowl and, standing out of sight behind him, redo it with fervor. He puts the grated cheese on the hot macaroni and stirs it. Then I pick it up, stand behind him, and stir it all in.

In this way we make the macaroni, adding milk, butter and sour cream. It’s not really Dad’s recipe. It is a Paula Dean recipe he got off the internet when he still used the computer and was in his early-retirement cooking and baking phase.

We put the macaroni in a rose-colored glass baking dish I had bought for him one Christmas to support his baking hobby. I put the dish in the oven, and then Dad lost interest.

I push him out into the living room in his wheelchair, beside the picture window where he likes to sit and watch outside. I’m not sure what he likes to watch, but he is fairly content watching.

Before I leave to drive home, I cut a 1-inch square out of the corner of the baked macaroni casserole and eat it, probably consuming enough calories for an entire meal in that one little bit. Mom and Dad will eat it for dinner.

I tell Dad good-bye and he says, “Be careful.” Shiny gold nuggets.

It is excellent macaroni. A memorable recipe.

The Lady’s Cheesy Mac by Paula Dean

42 thoughts on “Gold nuggets and Paula Dean’s macaroni and cheese”

  1. pretty mac and cheese. Glad you still have those gold nugget moments with your dad. It’s difficult watching those we love shrink away from us little by little, whether it’s mentally, physically, emotionally, it’s loss all the same.

  2. Christine, this is a WONDERFUL post. This reminds me of my younger sister’s husband, deceased, my age, who had lewey bodies and early onset dementia. He had some of the Parkinson symptoms. It was a five-year decline of muscle coordination, etc. I have stories about this, but I doubt I’ll write them as well as you wrote this. Weaving the macaroni preparation with your father’s thought processes and responses is so good it gives me chills. The picture of “golden” macaroni and the motif of gold nuggets is brilliant.

    I like your blog’s simplicity. I’m having someone help me set up a WordPress blog so I can transition from Blogger, though I’ll still keep putting up short posts. In 14 months I’ve made friends I don’t want to lose, many of them who have bought my memoir, and I’ve supported them too. But I want a more professional and sleek looking blog.

    Mine’s going to be simple, too, because I don’t know or need to do anything more complicated. On my new WordPress blog I’m going to branch out into topics such as brain injury, addictions, death and dying, etc. I’m working it out. I see all your wonderful categories on your sidebar. I’m not that far yet into the possibilities, but I’m working on it while trying to do book promotion. I see reaching out from here AS book promotion. We all do it. I’m also setting up an author page on Facebook and plan to hang out there more often than I do on Twitter or Blogger.

    I’m also hoping to eventually get people to guest post on my WP. When I get it together, I’d love to have a guest post from you, or have you post one of your past posts there–if you’d like–ones that relate to the topics I’m going to do. I would love to share this story here with my readers.

    I came over to meet you in response to your following me on Twitter and congratulating me on the release of my book. I just glanced at the pieces you’ve written. I’ll come back later when I have time. They look very interesting. Are you writing a book?

  3. It does look tasty. πŸ™‚ And yes on the calories…but worth it.

    Those gold nuggets. I keep mine in the jewelry box of my heart. Right next to the pearls of wisdom.

    Thank you for the smile πŸ™‚

  4. My parents both coming up on 87. They live with me. They are managing remarkably well. This kind of post prepares me. It is going to be hard to be as kind and indulgent as your are. The is no one else to help me. Your experiences should be in a support group newsletter of some kind. Have you explored that?

    1. No, I really haven’t. Maybe I should. Your parents are lucky to have you and I don’t think you will ever regret helping them out in this way. Hopefully they will leave this world calmly and peacefully. Not everyone gets dementia.

      You are a wonderful son.

  5. You certainly have some golden nuggets there.. And one of them is yourself.. Its hard as I had an inlaw with the same problem.. and its being in that moment of rememberance when those golden nuggets fall.. Loved your time you shared with us with your Dad… Precious moments and yummy yum.. I could just eat your Macaroni and Cheese.. delicious.. πŸ™‚

    1. Many, many people have this problem, I think. There should be an easier way of getting out of this world. Although I guess the way we got here wasn’t all that easy either.

  6. Thank you for bringing your life and that of your family here. You have a remarkable family and I admire how it all seems to come together, even when I’m sure you wonder if it will. My own mother died three years ago now and was ill for many years. The last couple of years she would forget something and it would drive dad to distraction that she asked over and over again. All I could do was to remind him to be patient. No easy thing when you are the one in the middle. Now I remind myself with dad to be patient as he tells me the same things over and over again. I love families. Thank You!

    1. I think it’s really hard for the person who has to deal with dementia 24/7. I wish my mom could find a way and be willing to take a few more breaks. But for now I do what I can to run interference while I’m there. Don’t get me wrong, my mom is doing a tremendous, selfless job of caring for my dad. He is lucky to have her. I’m not sure a lot of people would be willing to do what she’s had to do.

  7. What a wonderful post! I am reading it while I sit at my father in law’s house and it it home as I am experiencing much of the same emotions that you wrote about and I, too, am treasuring the gold nuggets that I am getting from him. It is so difficult to watch family members fade away and no matter how hard it is you have to remember those moments from the past and grab them from each day that show a bit of who they used to be. Thanks for sharing from your heart.

    1. I think remembering who he was is the most difficult part. Almost unbearable at times. It’s easier for me to just be in the here and now.

  8. This really is a beautiful post! Earlier this morning, I was thinking about how I’d really like to schedule some time off work so that I can visit my parents and grandparents in another state, and reading this just solidifies that desire.

    We put the macaroni in a rose-colored glass baking dish is such a wonderful lines, too, both symbolically and visually.

  9. I agree with what others have said about this being a beautiful post. I almost envy you.

    I wanted to let you know that I read the posts about your parents and your sister, but struggle with coming up with a comment of some sort most of the time. My (dearly loved) mother-in-law has severe dementia and it has been years since she recognized anyone. All she does now is sit and get spoon fed occasionally. Then there was the loss of my mother, and now my father is declining somewhat (although I have to say he is doing much better than I thought he would, considering his health history and how much he misses Mom after 55+ years of marriage).

    Anyhow. Sometimes I don’t know what to say because some of these things are still raw for me.

    1. It’s a difficult age we’re at, isn’t it? So many losses. I struggle with changes. But I guess in this life we’ve only got one direction we can go. The only way any of it makes any sense is to try to appreciate the moment. I think I am getting better at that with age.

      No worries, if you don’t comment.

      I enjoy your blog a lot.

  10. As my own mother grows older, sadness and guilt due to not being able to spend time with her regularly are feelings I struggle with daily. This was a touching reminder of the importance of selflessness and love. I look forward to reading more of your writing (and attempting that macaroni and cheese :-)).

  11. This is a beautifully written post, CM. I’m so glad I found your blog. It’s such a blessing that you search for those ‘golden nuggets’ and hold onto them like the valuable treasures that they are.

    We take so much for granted until health and life start to slip away — and then we realize that the simple little things we never thought about were really golden treasures all along. God bless your parents — and you, too, as you help to take care of them and make their life for meaningful.

    1. I don’t know how I missed your comment back in November. My apologies. (I suspect you have long given up on me by now.) I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this. You are so right about the small things.

      1. Oh my, CM! Thank you for taking time to reply to my comment. I really didn’t expect it. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated your thoughts. Having been a caregiver myself, I can identify with some of those little golden nuggets that become lasting treasures in life! Hope you are doing well. πŸ™‚

      1. I am getting closer with my book. Createspace turned out to be a disaster. I found a printer that will produce my 100 cartoon book for @$3.40. Will then sell on my blog and eBay and Amazon with my own accounts. I had to learn to convert my images to 300 dpi or whatever then convert entire file to one pdf. Will wait 6 months and produce volume 2 and 6 more months for volume 3. In that time hopefully I have stuff for volume 4 and include humor poetry, anecdotes, very short fiction. Regards.

  12. You are so resourceful about finding ways to establish even the smallest links of connection with your dad. And so patient, with both him and your mom. Whatever can be done, rest assured that you are doing it, Christine.

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