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