A Dish Served Cold

Dessert came just before the end of a perfect time around the table. As usual, the delicious meal had been prepared effortlessly, it seemed, by the Lovely Lady.  The table was full, and soon, so were we.  Every dish was perfect, from the salad (complete with diced avocados), to the brown rice and basted chicken breasts, along with the cheesy spinach, which even the kids love.  To top it all off, the pretty chef appeared from the kitchen with a perfect New York style cheesecake, golden brown on the outside and creamy smooth on the inside.  A little homemade strawberry jam drizzled over the top, along with a cup of coffee on the side, and the meal was complete.  Perfection!

It hasn’t always been so.  Just let her appear at the table with a fresh-baked apple crisp, and the inevitable question comes, usually quite soon.  “You left out the garlic, we hope?”  It was in the dim, distant past, but the collective memory still recalls.  A strange flavor in the apple/cinnamon pie-like concoction led us to believe that she might have substituted an inappropriate ingredient.  We’ll never let her forget.

And, I don’t talk about it much, but there was a time, much longer ago that I still recall clearly…

We had been married three or four months.  The lovely eighteen-year old redhead was juggling the unenviable tasks of caring for an immature and demanding new husband and attempting to maintain her own high standards for academics at the local university.  This week, to top it off, an old friend of mine had called.  “I’m coming to the university to recruit for the ministry which I represent.  Can we get together for a meal?”  Without a second thought for my young wife’s well-being, I immediately insisted that Bob come to our home for supper.  It would be no skin off my nose.  I was working at the music store and would be happy to arrive home ten minutes before he came.  The Lovely Lady didn’t offer a word of complaint.  She just planned ahead and, during her lunch break that day, instead of eating, she prepared a tuna casserole for the evening meal.  It was placed in the refrigerator, to be popped in the oven when she arrived home after classes that afternoon.  She would have forty-five minutes before our guest showed up; plenty of time to preheat the oven and then cook the casserole for thirty minutes.

We sat down with our guest that evening in our tiny combination kitchen/dining area.  Bob looked at the salad and casserole and said, “Mmmm…Tuna casserole!  My favorite!”  After we asked the blessing, the portions were served and we set to.  The first bite was great!  Hot and creamy, just as we had expected.  Funny thing, though.  The further we went, the colder the temperature of the food.  By the time we dug into the center of the pile of tuna and noodles on our plates, it was as frigid as if it had just been taken out of the refrigerator.  The beautiful young housewife had made a small miscalculation.  Thirty minutes is the amount of time it takes to heat up the ingredients when they begin at room temperature.  This dish had chilled for several hours previous to that and would have taken twice the time to be heated through.

Whenever I think of that meal, I remember, vividly, several things.  The first thing is the graciousness with which our guest handled himself.  Ignoring the temperature of the dish (he couldn’t not have noticed it), he wolfed down his portion and asked for seconds, exclaiming about how delicious it was.  Not only did he not mention the problem with the food, he made sure that the cook knew how much he appreciated her work!  The second thing I remember is that, in spite of her embarrassment at the culinary faux-pas, the lovely young lady handled herself with aplomb and was the perfect hostess for the entire evening.   One final thing I remember, the thing I’m personally the most proud of.  For a wonder, the young lady’s husband was supportive as she transformed from the perfect hostess to the mortified teenage girl when the front door closed behind Bob.  I remember assuring her that it was of no consequence and reminded her that he had asked for and eaten seconds.  After a tear or two, we began to laugh as we moved past the embarrassed stage and I hugged her and told the beautiful girl that I loved her and still loved her cooking.

I passed the test!  As hard as it may be for you to believe, I have not always been so discerning, nor caring.  There have been any number of times in our marriage when I have failed miserably.  I am impatient and selfish, again and again.  I am thankful for the grace which she has shown each time.  But, on this one occasion, I realized how much she needed me to be supportive and sympathetic.  I’d like to think that it’s part of the reason I enjoyed such a perfect meal today, over thirty years later.  I may be dreaming, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

I remember a pastor’s wife, in the church where I grew up, who refused to sing in public.  She would sit (or stand) with her mouth closed the whole time the congregation sang the beautiful old hymns of the church.  I never could figure out how anyone could sit without singing those great songs.  But, there was more to it than simply a person who didn’t like to sing.  It seems that her husband, the pastor, had on more than one occasion, publicly made fun of her and told folks that she couldn’t “carry a tune in a bucket.”  She believed him, or else was too embarrassed by his words.  Regardless, she refused to even try anymore.  Shame on him! 

I’d love to have you try the Lovely Lady’s amazing roast beef some day.  And her apple pie?  As the saying goes, it would “make you want to slap your mama.”  I know better than to take credit for any of the great food.  But, deep down inside, I think that I had a little (a very little, mind you) part in the development of a fine cook.  I won’t insist on it.  She may even have something to say about that…

This I do know; words spoken in encouragement build confidence and a resolve to do better; words spoken in criticism are destructive and build a resolve to quit trying.  I’d like to be the one speaking the words that egg people on to do good things.  I’m guessing you would too.

Another serving of tuna casserole, anyone?

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.”
(Dr. Seuss (Theodore Seuss Geisel)~American author of children’s books~1904-1991)

“Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact, you have been doing.”
(I Thessalonians 5:11)

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