Melissa and I took our dog June, for a walk down the road. Passing our neighbor’s yard, I heard a voice call out to me. “Hey Tom, do you want some lettuce?”
“Um, yeah, sure.” I replied to no one there. Then Gene stood up. He was bent over, working in one of his gardens. He has amazing gardens; some with fruits and vegetables and others with the most beautiful flowers.
Gene cut two heads from the garden and handed them to me. It doesn’t get any better than lettuce, right from the garden. After that, we walked around the yard. He was showing us different varieties of flowers they planted. His wife, Lois, joined us. One of the flowerbeds is her project and very beautiful.
Gene started picking and gathering flowers from around the yard. Yellow, deep orange, blue, white – there were even a couple beige flowers I had never seen before. He shuffled the bunch for a moment or two, and then handed them to Melissa. “Here, these are for you.”
Maybe it was because he and Lois grew all the flowers, or perhaps because they were fresh out of the garden, but without a doubt, it was one of the most beautiful flower bouquets I’d ever seen. Melissa absolutely loved them!
Lois invited us in for refreshments. Of course, she always includes June, and had some special treats for her too. We sat and talked until after dark. Melissa thanked Gene again for the flowers. She was so thrilled with them. Gene just blushed. He is rightfully proud of his gardens and was happy to share the spoils.
While Melissa admired the blossoms, I told Gene, “There are two people everyone is always happy to see: the flower delivery guy, and the person with the dessert tray.” We shared a good laugh about that as Gene loves desserts.
I picked up my heads of lettuce from the picnic table and we started the short walk home in the pitch-black night. “We should have brought a headlamp.” Melissa said.
June confidently replied, “Follow me Mom, I know the way.”
It is true what I said about the flower delivery guy and the person with the dessert tray.
When I was cooking at the assisted living home, after a meal was served, I always went to the dining room with the dessert tray. It gave me an opportunity to ask the people about their meal. Most were happy, but sometimes I got an earful. “How was your meal?” I asked Will.
“Meal?” He scowled at me. “It was possibly the worst meal I’ve ever had – if that’s what you can call it.”
I smiled as I set his dessert next to his plate. “I’ll try to do better tomorrow.” I told him. His wife, Ruth, was quick to let me have it as well.
One day the steamer in the kitchen quit working. It’s important to serve meals on time because many of the residents are on medications that have to be taken with food. As quickly as I could, I heated the frozen green beans in a pan on the stove and served dinner promptly at 5:00 pm.
Afterwards, I made my rounds through the dining room. “How was your dinner tonight?” Ruth gave me a cold stare.
“The beans weren’t done. They weren’t hot – not even warm. As a matter of fact, they were cold. Just terrible.” She shook her head.
“If I tell you a secret Ruth, can you keep it just between us?” Wanting to hear what I had to say, she agreed. Curious, her husband Will leaned in to listen. “You can eat the beans cold.” I said, “You can eat them raw if you want to. They won’t hurt you.” Will and Ruth both looked at me, appalled. I cracked a smile and said, “But I will try to do better tomorrow.”
We all have our off days, but I know I almost always serve a good meal. I viewed concerns as constructive criticism and never let the few who would complain no matter what I did, bring me down. As a matter of fact, I was now on a mission to win over Will and Ruth – and because I am not a flower delivery guy, I planned to do it with the dessert tray.
After serving a spaghetti dinner, I was making the rounds with the dessert tray. “How was your meal Will?”
“There was too much dressing on the salad and too much butter on the garlic toast.” He complained.
“Will, the dressing comes on the side in a cup.” I justified, “If there was too much dressing on the salad, that was your doing – not mine.”
Will didn’t have anything to say after that, but Ruth spoke up, “I thought the garlic toast was good.”
“Did you leave room for a piece of apple cobbler?” I asked. With each meal I served, Will and Ruth seemed to lighten up a bit.
One night I made a dessert I knew Will was fond of. “Did you leave room for a lemon bar?” I asked each of the four people at Will’s table. They all said they did. I intentionally gave both Will and John a smaller piece. Although he wasn’t going to say anything about it, I caught the expected look of disapproval. “Will, do you by chance have room for two lemon bars?”
“I can certainly make room.” He said pushing the first one over a bit with his fork. I gave him another smaller lemon bar. Then I asked John if he would also like a second piece. He too made room on his plate. I had cut the smaller pieces with exactly this in mind. The two smaller pieces combined gave each of them just a little more than a normal portion, but it sure made them feel special.
“There you go gentlemen.” I said in a secretive tone of voice as if we had just conducted a shady deal. “Now don’t tell anyone else about this or everybody will start asking for two pieces of dessert.” We shared a good laugh about that, then I went back to the kitchen.
From the serving window I watched the two men, both in their nineties, each cutting their additional lemon bar and sharing half of it with their wives. It was one of the sweetest things I’d ever seen and really warmed my heart.
A couple nights later, Will addressed me, “Say Tom, did you prepare the liver and onions yourself?” I told him I had. “Well let me say, that was the best liver I’ve ever had. I was having a hard time deciding if that was beef liver or a very good steak. And you served plenty of onions with it. I like that.”
From the lemon bars incident forward, Will and Ruth were absolutely golden to me.
Another night, Will spoke before I had a chance to ask how he liked his meal. “Say Tom, did you make the lasagna?”
“Indeed, I did.” I replied, “It’s my homemade recipe.”
“That was quite possibly the best meal I’ve ever had. Was there any left over?” I told him there was. “If you could save a piece of that for my lunch tomorrow, I’d sure appreciate it.” I told him I would do that. Will added, “You know, I believe you may be the second best cook I’ve ever met.” He touched his wife’s hand, “Ruth of course being the finest. She’s magnificent in the kitchen.” His compliment made me smile and caused Ruth to blush. Will had a soft, loving side to him and was sure smooth with his diplomacy.
"You probably don't want one of these,” I said presenting a tray full of brownies, “so I'll eat yours for you."
"Oh no you won't. Just put it right here!" Ruth said. Will chimed in, "I left room for two!"
“Sorry, that was a onetime deal my friend - it's one per person tonight.” I said. We all shared a good laugh before I moved on to the next table.
The brownies were a big hit. Very moist and rich with dark chocolate -fudge frosting. Simply delicious. I wished I could say I made them, but I didn't. My boss Gretchen made them the day before, I just had the pleasure of serving them.
Before taking the dessert to the dining room, the head boss reminded me of a resident with a nut allergy, who couldn't have a brownie because of the walnuts. Poor Della looked so sad as I told her, “I brought a special dessert for you.” I had a cup of lime Jell-O cubes with a burst of whipped cream on top attempting to make it look a bit more appealing. Although it was pretty, it was no dark chocolate brownie. "There you go, Della. Cool, refreshing Jell-O with a little something extra on top!" I said as I placed the cup in front of her.
"Thank you." She replied, in a sheepishly polite, but heartbroken tone in her voice. Della watched with wanting eyes, her mouth nearly watering as I went to the next table with my tray full of chocolate goodies.
On the way to the kitchen, I glanced back her way. Della was poking at her Jell-O with a spoon, watching with envy as the others at her table enjoyed a brownie. She looked so left out and forgotten, it made me sad.
After dinner, when the dishes were being cleared, I noticed the cup of green Jell-O came back to the kitchen, nearly untouched. It made me feel awful for dissing her on the brownies, but I wouldn't want her to have an allergic reaction either. As I worked, I thought more about the emptiness in her eyes. Then, I remembered Gretchen telling me a while back, she didn't use nuts in any of her baked goods.
I sent Gretchen a text briefly explaining the situation. She responded, “There are chocolate chunks but no walnuts in the brownies. Della can have one.”
Thrilled with her confirmation, I stopped one of the resident assistants, told her about Gretchen’s text then handed her a plate, asking if she would take a brownie to Della.
The RA returned to the kitchen with a big smile on her face, "You just made her day! Della’s eyes lit up when I told her there were no nuts in the brownies and she could have one." The RA was happy. Della was happy. All this happiness made me happy. It was a great way to wrap up my shift.
I was back in the kitchen the next morning. One of the resident assistants came to the kitchen, telling me again how happy Della was to get the brownie the night before. “She’s still talking about it this morning.” She said. I smiled.
At lunchtime I served a homemade vegetable soup to everyone except Will and a few others who requested left over lasagna. After lunch, I took made my rounds with the dessert tray, stopping at Della’s table first. “Della, I have ginger crack cookies and just one brownie left over from last night. Which would you like?”
“Can I have the brownie?” She asked. While I put the brownie on her plate, she pointed to a small juice glass with a handful of wild yellow flowers (dandelions) setting in the center of the table. “Someone brought me daisies.” She cut the brownie with the edge of her fork, saying “I like daises.” Then taking a bite, she smiled a million-dollar smile. I moved on feeling pretty darn good.
“That lasagna seemed to be even better today. Thank you for saving me a piece.” Will said, “Say Tom, you wouldn’t happen to have any brownies left over from last night, would you?”
“Sorry, Will.” I said, “I just gave the last one to a gal who didn't get one at the dinner table last night. I baked ginger crack cookies this morning. Would you like one?”
“Are those molasses cookies?” Will asked, stretching his neck to peer over the top of the tray. I told him ginger cracks and molasses cookies were pretty much the same thing. “Well a rose by any other name is still a rose.” He said, chuckling. “Molasses cookies are my favorite.” He added, tapping the napkin next to his plate.
“Speaking of flowers,” Will said, “did you see all the dandelions in bloom this morning? They sure are pretty. I went out and gathered some for a couple of the folks who don’t get out much so they could enjoy them too.”
My heart was full. “Will,” I asked, “do you happen to have room for a second cookie?”
“I sure do.” He said, pushing the first cookie over to make room for another.
I gave Will and Ruth, and John and his wife, each a second cookie. Then announced to everyone in the room, “I have extras, would anyone like a second cookie?” Hands went up all around the room. As I handed out the extra cookies, I noticed almost all of the tables had a small juice glass with dandelions in water.
When I got back to the kitchen, I asked two of the resident assistants if they would like a cookie. “Sure!” They said, smiling as they took one from the tray.
“Take two if you’d like.” I said, adding “Come back after I get the kitchen cleaned up and I’ll give you a few in a baggie to take home to your kids.”
“What’s the special occasion?” They wondered.
“You know,” I explained, “There are two people everyone is always happy to see: the flower delivery guy, and the person with the dessert tray.”
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