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Maxim for Life


I chose the title of this column when my aunt said to me, “It’s okay. It’s where we are in life.” That was 2009.

One of my first columns told about a phone conversation with Aunt Doris, who was 83 at the time and has since passed away. When I asked what she and Uncle Hugh had done during that week, she said they’d attended two funerals. One for a close friend. I was upset that they had lost a good friend and their week was spent at the funeral home and church.

Aunt Doris said, “It’s okay. It’s where we are in life.”   With those words, she assured me that she had accepted her life stage. Aunt Doris and Uncle Hugh were familiar with the rituals of death. Each morning and at noontime, they listened to the radio for the local news and obituaries, and Aunt Doris called her church or a friend if she needed more information about a death.

By that afternoon, she had fried apple pies or a homemade chocolate pie ready to take to the family of the deceased. She and Uncle Hugh attended visitation or the funeral and sometimes both. They gave their time and hearts to comfort those who were mourning.

In a 2009 column, I wrote that I’d adopted Aunt Doris’s words as a maxim for life. No matter what my age or situation, it’s where I was and being okay was my goal. And now, that Husband and I are losing friends to death and many of our conversations are about sickness, I preach Aunt Doris’s words to myself.

Recent deaths hit hard. Our next-door neighbor of 34 years and another friend with whom we’ve celebrated good times since 1977. Some friends care for invalid parents. Others suffer debilitating illnesses. Friends endure chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Wheelchairs and walkers are common in homes. I’m not accepting any of this easily.

It’s comforting to remember the past. Sleeping twice for two hours during the night and hoping for a nap when a baby naps. Giving baby showers and wedding parties. Sewing Halloween costumes and Easter dresses. Chauffeuring children to sports practices, piano lessons, church choir. Monitoring homework.

Travelling long distances to watch Daughter play volleyball and Son play basketball. Welcoming twelve teen-age girls to Friday night slumber parties. Cooking hamburgers for Son and his friends. Hosting a 50th wedding anniversary dinner for parents.

Celebrating engagements and weddings. Cuddling newborn grandchildren. Comforting a Grand during his first overnight stay, his first time to sleep away from home and his parents. And now, setting the family table for six adults and eight Grands for Christmas morning breakfast.

Aunt Doris was right. It’s where we are in life that determines what we do. And she showed me that accepting a life stage and its activities, its blessings, and its trials make life okay.

I don’t have to like losing friends and sickness. Just accept. I’ll keep talking to myself.



Giblet Gravy

Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 7.45.17 AMThe aroma of cornbread dressing baking in the oven takes me back to being a kid and standing by a stove. Mom and her sisters, Doris and Nell, began taking turns hosting holiday meals in the 1950s. The hostess roasted a turkey and made the dressing, and the other two sisters prepared the side dishes. All three made a dessert and all three had a hand in the gravy no matter where our family celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas.

At our house while the dressing baked, Mom poured the warm turkey drippings from the roasting pan into a bowl. She set a saucepan on the stove eye and turned the setting to medium.   Then she cut a hunk of butter, dropped it into the pan, and handed me a wooden stirring spoon. Aunt Nell and Aunt Doris stood close.

“Now, Ruth,” Aunt Doris said to Mom, “are you sure that pan is big enough?”

“It’s the one I always use,” Mom answered.

“It looks too small to me.”

“You said that last time we made gravy here.”

Aunt Doris used her largest saucepan when we gathered at her house, and Mom always suggested that a smaller pan would be less washing.

Mom added a few spoonfuls of flour to the melted butter. I stirred. Aunt Nell said, “I never understand how you can make gravy and not measure the butter and flour.”

“You don’t think that looks right?” Mom asked.

“I’m sure it is, but I measure.” Aunt Nell looked in the pan. “That looks like it’s stirring up to the right consistency, don’t you think?”

I listened and stirred.

“We can always add a little more flour, mixed with water, if it’s too thin,” Mom said.

“Maybe. But my gravy gets lumpy when I add flour and water,” said Aunt Nell.

As the flour and butter mixture browned, I moved aside so all three sisters could judge its color. Not too light, not too dark. Mom skimmed some of the fat from the turkey drippings and picked up the bowl to pour the broth into the pan.

“I’d wait until it’s a little darker,” said Aunt Doris.

But Mom and Aunt Nell agreed the roux was a perfect caramel color so Mom slowly poured the broth into the pan. “Keep stirring,” she told me and she added a few shakes from the salt and pepper shakers.

While I stirred, Dad sliced the turkey. Mom chopped the cooked turkey gizzard and liver and a boiled egg in pea-size pieces. Aunt Nell and Aunt Doris loaded our dining room table with dressing, sweet potato casserole, white mashed potatoes, cream corn, green beans, lima beans, congealed cranberry salad and homemade yeast rolls.

I knew what came next. The gravy tasting. Each of the sisters dipped a spoon into the gravy saucepan. They blew gently to cool it and then tasted.

“Maybe a little more salt.”

“Do you think it’s thick enough?”

“It’s close to being ready.”

While Dad, uncles, grandparents, cousins, my brother and I stood behind our chairs around the dining room table, the cooks stood by the stove. They salted, stirred, and tasted until they finally agreed that the gravy was good enough to serve.

Mom added the giblets and chopped egg, gave one last stir, and then poured the hot gravy into her china gravy boat. She placed it on the table between the sliced turkey and cornbread dressing.