“You do all the cooking ‘round here?“ I asked, pushing myself away from the table in the small dining room while patients toyed with their carrot cake and others slumped in wheelchairs. Above them on a wide-screen TV, a newsreader described Chinese President Xi Jinping’s call for reunification with Taiwan, peacefully or otherwise.

“Just evenings,” she said as I approached her, wiping meaty hands on a cloth and tossing it upon the food warmer. Her eight-button chef coat fitted snuggly over her bosom like casing over sausage. “Only eighty-six tonight—The census is low ’cause of the holidays,” she added. Her speech suggested origins from the hardscrabble Mississippi Delta, her lightsome spirit from decades of graced angst. “Am glad to see you’ve been eatin’ better than when you came in,” she continued. “That you’re goin’ home tomorrow.” Her deep-set eyes bedazzled like the blinking lights on the flocked Christmas tree behind her.

“Yes, I am, and thanks for all you do each evening.” She had seemed tireless mingling among the patients, calling them by name, listening to their comments about the food, even returning to the kitchen to prepare special dishes for them. Hilarity infused her movements.

My feelings were running high. I had more to say. “And may we hug?” Instantly, her cook demeanor morphed into Earth Mother, with crooked teeth resembling centuries-old standing stones weathered into points; within that moment her juiciness sweetened me, commingling her world with mine—a psychic feeding like no other.

 

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