In August 2008, in the midst of a State of Florida budget debacle, my husband, partner and best friend, David, a history professor at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg was among over 300 university employees whose jobs were eliminated. Scheduled to teach his final class on Aug 7, his 62nd birthday, David decided to retire, apply for Social Security and begin what he calls, “Getting paid for being old.” Our life together was about to change yet again.
Four years earlier, in the Fall of 2004 we had experienced our Anis Horribilis, to borrow a phrase from Queen Elizabeth II., and knew our life would never be the same again. Of course similar feelings, though never quite as intense, had occurred to us at various other times in our lives - when we met and married on our fourth date (1981), our moves from Chicago to Florida (1983) and back again (1985), my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (1983), Tavish’s traumatic birth (1985), our move to Charlotte (1989), Toby’s birth (1989), our move to Lake Norman where we built a single story house with modifications for me (1995), ), David’s decision to change from a 25 year career in journalism and public relations to writing and teaching (1996), permanently leaving my job (1999), spending the spring semester in the UK with the boys (2000), moving to Lincolnton upon our return (2000), two years of Lincolnton High School and marching band (2000-2002), Toby entering and exiting middle school (2001), the Lincoln Theatre Guild, The Green Room and the Hickory Community Theatre (2001-2004), Tavish entering Episcopal High School (2002), David pursuing his PhD (2001-2005 ), moving to Aberdeen, Scotland with Toby for an academic year (2002- 2003), looking for high schools for Toby (2003). But all those are subjects for a later time.
2004 started out well enough, I traveled to London with a group of Fabulous Friends to celebrate my 50th birthday, also worthy of a future entry, Tavish graduated from EHS and was accepted to Davidson College and David was well on his way to completing his doctoral thesis. We were living in an historic house in Lincolnton, NC, our days consisting of coffee and later cocktails on the expansive front porch, unschooling Toby, reading and writing, occasional dinners with friends and enjoying watching the boys become young men. Well, perhaps that last part was a little stressful from time to time.
David took a daily 3 mile walk along the converted railroad right of way, now a nature trail and I walked and worked out at the local YMCA from time to time. That spring I shuttled Toby to and from rehearsals for a Moliere farce at a theatre about 25 miles away. I spent the evenings in a local coffee shop, sipping decaf, reading and waiting for his rehearsals to end. The performance was a smashing success and he received his first newspaper review.
The summer flew past as we shopped for college for Tavish and boarding school for Toby. All too soon, in early August, Tavish was off to Davidson and college life. Toby was around for another few weeks as Buxton School where he would attend in Williamstown, MA did not begin until mid-September. I cherished those last few weeks with him at home knowing in my heart that he would never be my little boy again.
David and I drove Toby to Massachusetts and returned to Lincolnton to begin our lives as “empty nesters.” I was not prepared in any way for that role and fought it daily. I sent creative care packages to the boys and wrote long e-mails (which neither read regularly). I imposed the “You must always call your mother every Sunday for the rest of your life” rule and for the most part they began to follow it. When they didn’t call me, I called them.
On the last Friday of September, David called from his office in Charlotte to tell me that he would be a little late getting home. He had scheduled an appointment with his doctor. Well ,not actually his regular doctor, she was out of town. Because he wanted to see someone urgently he agreed to see one of her partners. Only when he arrived home did he tell me that during his regular walks he had been experiencing chest pains for weeks. A few days earlier he had become nauseous and sweaty and in so much pain that he was forced to sit down immediately. Some passersby asked if he was OK and he assured them he was and after the pain subsided, he had walked home and dressed for work as if nothing had happened. I was furious.
The doctor informed David that he was experiencing classic angina and because he had been performing his own daily stress test during his walk, and failing, the best choice was to proceed directly to angioplasty. The procedure was scheduled for the following Thursday. David was frightened and anxious.
On Saturday morning, I received a call from my sister that our uncle, my mother’s youngest brother, had died during the night. Earl, or John as he had preferred to be called as an adult, was the youngest of Mom’s seven siblings and had been deteriorating rapidly during the past few months due to Alzheimer’s disease.
On that Sunday, as large small town families do in the wake of death, we all gathered at my aunt’s house. There was food and family stories and memories galore. At one point during the afternoon Tavish and I sat for quite a long time listening to my Dad pontificate on everything from religion to politics as he was wont to do. I regretted that Toby wasn’t there with us. Dad doted on his grandchildren, showed off his new great-grandson born just a few weeks earlier on his birthday, hugged nieces and nephews, and while the day was sad, all seemed well with the world.
By 2 PM the following day, my Daddy was dead.
Tonight's dinner -
Macaroni y Queso con Coliflor
(Macaroni and Cheese with Cauliflower)
12 ounces elbow macaroni (multi-grain works well)
1 head cauliflower , separated in to small florets
½ cup fresh parsley chopped (flat-leaf is best)
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped (preferably white onion)
1 ½ cups (6 ounces) grated sharp cheese, white or yellow
½ cup grated mild white cheese
(reduced fat cheese is OK, fat free will not melt)
1 ½ cups Mexican crema ( sour cram or reduced fat sour cream will work)
½ cup evaporated milk ( or 1% milk, do not use skim)
1 Tablespoon spicy mustard, like Dijon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Dash red pepper (cayenne)
Heat over to 400 degrees. Cook pasta according to package directions, adding cauliflower during the last three minutes of cooking time; drain
While the pasta is cooking, Pulse the bread in a food processor or blender until coarse crumbs form. Add the parsley, 2 Tbsp of oil, ¼ tsp each of salt and pepper and pulse to combine, set aside
Return the pasta pot to medium heat and add the remaining Tbsp of oil, the onion, ¾ tsp salt (I use much less) and ½ tsp pepper, nutmeg and red pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, just until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Mix in pasta, cauliflower, cheese, crema, milk and mustard and stir gently to combine.
Transfer to shallow 3 quart baking dish, sprinkle with the bread crumbs and a little grated cheese
And bake until golden brown and bubbly, 12-15 minutes. It may be necessary to lay a piece of aluminum foil lightly on top if the crumbs brown too quickly.
Serve with a mixed green salad (ensalada mixta) in a simple dressing of lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and a creamy Chardonnay from Argentina. For dessert, baked apples stuffed with raisins and drizzled with maple syrup (Manzanas rellenos con pasas y jarabe de arce)
08 Abril 2009
Welcome to New York
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