The Scientist and I have an old friend whom I'll call Millie. For many years, she ran the department where the Scientist used to work at Famous Teaching Hospital. Despite some ongoing physical challenges (nobody would ever call her disabled), she kept that place organized and running. She always knew who to call to get things done. She had no qualms about telling anyone how the cow ate the cabbage, and she affectionately referred to her boss, a sometimes-imperious pathologist, as "the old heifer". The doctors loved and feared her, and her word was law.
When Millie and her good friend Betty Jo retired several years ago, they built a comfortable home in a nearby retirement community, relaxed, and continued to enjoy life. We tended to get together with them around Christmas time and maybe one other time during the year, with occasional phone calls in between. Then shortly before this past Christmas we learned that Millie had been diagnosed with an advanced malignancy, had had extensive surgery, and had a long road of treatment ahead. When we made our usual Christmas visit, bearing the homemade bread and candy they enjoyed, we found both ladies tired but upbeat. However, Millie was quite disappointed that for the first time in sixteen years, I had not made my mother's delicious but highly labor-intensive fruitcake cookies. (Advent was so busy that I had given myself permission to forgo my usual baking frenzy.)
This week I came home one evening to find a phone message from Millie. She thanked us for a card we had sent, and informed us that for various medical and personal reasons, she was discontinuing treatment and had begun hospice care at home. When the Scientist spoke with her later, she sounded weak but was still her matter-of-fact self. When he asked if we could bring her and Betty Jo some homemade bread this weekend, she told him that would be nice, but that she would really like some of those fruitcake cookies!
Now where was I going to find that wierd red and green "fruitcake mix" in March? On a hunch I called the Scientist's mom, since she usually has whatever we need...and lo and behold, she had a 1-pound tub of the stuff in her freezer! This afternoon I came home from a combination choir rehearsal and spring work day at church, and spent about three hours making seven dozen fruitcake cookies. Our own pecans that we shelled last fall were chopped, all the fruits and nuts were dumped into my mom's old Dutch oven along with the batter, and the cookies were mixed the only way they can be--by plunging both hands into the whole shebang and kneading. They bake low and slow--250 degrees for an hour, and there are so many that they have to bake in two batches. The fragrance and flavor are wonderful.
The Scientist will bake bread tonight, and we'll take all of this good stuff to our friends tomorrow. There's nothing morbid about Millie--she is facing her mortality in the same down-to-earth, straightforward way she handles everything else. She did urge the Scientist to keep in touch with Betty Jo "after I join the angels." We are grateful for these friends and hope we will bring cheer and comfort to them tomorrow.
Outside, it's 77 degrees; the Indica azaleas are blooming and the baby peaches are the size of my thumbnail. Inside, it must be December, because the kitchen smells like Christmas.