a crisis and a decision

I perched on the edge of my seat next to my father’s bed, ready to quickly move out of the way for the next nurse or patient care assistant that needed to get where I was. So far there had been three, and each time, I stood and moved to the other side of the bed, or generally just got out of the way. I felt out of place, in the way.

The first was a stern-faced woman, her hair pulled back in a tight bun and wearing turquoise scrubs. She brought my father a lunch tray – green beans, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, and a cup of brown tea with no ice – and, later, she checked his blood pressure and noted his vitals on a scrap of paper. She didn’t smile. The second and third wore red scrubs. They worked as a team to help my father stand, wobbly and listing to the right. With their assistance, he pivoted with shuffling steps and plopped into the chair that was also a digital scale. After getting his weight, they changed his gown. The sweat-soaked one he was wearing was removed, and almost simultaneously, a clean, pale-blue gown was draped over him, then tied in the back.

He was charming with each of them, even the one who would not smile. He joked that his weight was due to his incredible muscle strength (it’s not). He asked one if she was married (she isn’t). He flirted, and they humored him or ignored him, whichever was most appropriate.

But now we were alone. I sat in the chair beside his bed, holding his right hand for some time, letting go when it got too damp, holding it again. He watched the activity outside his door — other residents rolling by in their wheelchairs, nursing home staff in their colored scrubs pushing medication carts or bins of linens. And we talked.

“Why am I here?” he asked.

I did my best to answer that question, and my chest tightened with each word I spoke. My heart hurt.

You’re here because Mom can’t take care of you alone anymore, because none of us can. You’re here because you get confused, and when you get confused, you often get angry or mean. It’s too much for any of us. You’re here because we need help, and because this is for the best. You’re here because you need full care, more than we can safely do without some support. You’re here because Mom needs a break, and if she doesn’t get a break, she’ll die.

My father has dementia, and until now, we’ve mostly kept it quiet.

My father has dementia, and even though it is breaking our hearts, we made the decision to put him in a nursing home this weekend. Everything came so suddenly, after an evening of crisis. None of us were ready for it. But then again, I’m not sure we ever would be ready. I hope this current placement is temporary, a bandage, until we can figure out a long-term solution. I fear that it will become permanent.

I came home and baked yesterday. I baked a key lime cheesecake, one of Sam’s favorites. I grated limes, measured juice, whisked lime curd, blended cream cheese and sugar. The routine of the process calmed my mind as the sweet aromas of cheesecake filled the house.

The baking helped for a time. It helped until today, when Dad told me he wanted to go home, told me he wanted to die if he couldn’t.


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22 Responses to “a grandmother’s southern banana pudding”

  1. Brian @ A Thought For Food — July 13, 2010 @ 5:37 pm

    Oh my oh my! I haven’t thought about banana pudding in such a long time. Something I ate at camp… and I loved it!

    Thanks for bringing back the memory!

  2. Adrienne — July 13, 2010 @ 6:13 pm

    My fiance is obsessed with banana pudding! I am definitely making this. Thanks for the recipe 🙂

  3. Jason Phelps — July 13, 2010 @ 6:25 pm

    Just like gift giving, it is the thought and heart that counts. All the memories are a nice bonus as well.


  4. Velva — July 13, 2010 @ 9:10 pm

    Cheers to your grandmother! Cheers to the banana pudding that you learned to make from your grandmother.

    • merrygourmet

      merrygourmet replied: — July 13th, 2010 @ 9:21 pm

      Brian – It really is an old fashioned dessert, isn’t it? I’m a sucker for tradition.

      Adrienne – Oh, this is one he’ll love. I promise!

      Jason – You got it. The memories are the best part.

      Velva – Thanks so much! She’s doing fantastic and we’re so proud of her for making it through. She’s a trooper.

  5. Macaroni Mama — July 13, 2010 @ 10:55 pm

    I love this post about Mom’s banana pudding. We all looked forward to it, and when you showed up with banana pudding for the Fourth of July, it brought back all those special memories of the meals we had at Mom’s, when she used to cook. Thanks.

  6. Gabriela — July 14, 2010 @ 11:04 am

    Banana pudding is one of those quintessential summer desserts, I need to make some soon! Have you ever made it with saltines instead of Nilla Wafers? It’s pretty yummy! Glad I found your blog through Food52 Reciprocity!

  7. Joy — July 14, 2010 @ 12:24 pm

    I love banana pudding. It has been so long since I had some. Thank you for the share. I may try this soon, like this weekend.

  8. Squeaky Gourmet — July 14, 2010 @ 3:50 pm

    I LoooooOOOooVe how you set up the pictures for this pudding! What a fun and creative way to shoot it!

  9. Maria — July 14, 2010 @ 4:32 pm

    I haven’t had banana pudding in ages. Looks so good!

  10. Just Food Snobs — July 14, 2010 @ 5:40 pm

    What a beautiful story! Grandmothers are the best cooks, I still remember my great grandmothers cooking. Thanks for sharing your story and recipe!

  11. My Simple Food — July 14, 2010 @ 11:42 pm

    This is a really nice recipe. Brings back memories of my grandma too. Thanks 🙂

  12. Susan — July 15, 2010 @ 1:53 am

    Lovely post! Believe it or not, I am not a fan of banana pudding or chess pie. I always loved Mom’s Sock-it-to-Me cake…do you remember that one at all? It was a golden bundt cake with a swirl of cinnamon, sugar and pecans…YUM!

    • merrygourmet

      merrygourmet replied: — July 15th, 2010 @ 11:45 am

      Susan – I do remember the Sock-It-To-Me cake! Wonder if she still has her recipe?

  13. I love banana pudding and this one sounds just perfect! Love the story behind this fab dessert!

  14. CC Recipe — July 15, 2010 @ 4:28 pm

    I am a sucker for good banana puddin’…this looks wonderful and I would totally cave for this!

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  16. Jaimie — July 16, 2010 @ 12:58 pm

    I’m going to have to try this. My husband’s grandmother makes a banana pudding, but it is…. gross. It’s pudding out of an industrial-sized can and smothered with Cool-whip, and as much as I adore her, I can’t bring myself to eat it.

  17. Sean — July 18, 2010 @ 12:49 pm

    I made this recipe last night for my husband’s 40th birthday dinner. He’s from Kentucky, and so we made all his childhood favorites: Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, corn and ‘nana pudding. This pudding was a major hit with everyone. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite — July 20, 2010 @ 10:36 am

    What a lovely story – glad you are able to carry on the tradition and that your grandmother is in remission!

  19. Pingback: a taste of history: grandmother’s chess pie | the merry gourmet

  20. katherine schantz — February 2, 2012 @ 7:29 pm

    I grew up in N.C. surrounded by strong women that were great cooks…..we have made banana pudding for years….if you want the short version of the above recipe….that is proven at Family ReUnions, Church Suppers and tons of picnics and Sunday lunches….here it is

    1 Large package of Vanilla pudding mix ( make sure you use whole milk, eggs and add a pinch of good, real vanilla) cook until thick
    line the bottom and sides of a 2 quart pyrex dish with real Vanilla Wafers
    put the 1st layer of pudding then the 1st layer of sliced bananas
    alternate up until you reach the top
    top with REAl HOMEMADE meringue ( 4 egg whites, the ones from the eggs you used in the pudding, beaten with alittle sugar and cream of tarter )
    top the pudding then brown the merinque in a 400 degree oven
    yummy, easy and good to the last bite…..enjoy….from kate howard at home

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