My dad told me once, when he was between work and delivering newspapers by way of keeping food on our table, that March and April seem to be the months for obituaries and birth announcements. While I don’t know if that’s a statistical fact, in the microcosm that is my life, this seems to hold some truth.
While out for a walk I bumped into a neighbor of ours who let me know that husband of our next-door-neighbor had passed recently. Burdened with intense guilt for not having known he was ill and feeling as though I was poor neighbor, I went home and thought about what it was I could do.
Within that same day, I learned that very close friends of ours had delivered their first baby, a beautiful baby girl. The joy of this new life in the world lifted my spirits greatly, but then shifted me into overdrive. What do you do for new parents and their baby?
I don’t know what it is about me, and likely a great number of other people (my ideas are hardly original), that immediately goes to food when something significant happens to others in my life. For most of my life, I’ve not had the benefit of a lot of expendable income, but good and nourishing food is often not too expensive to make and has quickly become my default when looking to provide someone in need with a gift.
So, I spent most of my Saturday making chicken pot pie. I roasted a large chicken, pulled the meat from its bones, whipped up pie crust in my food processor, and slowly cooked the filling on my stove top, mixing fresh veggies and chicken, stock, cream, and white wine. The scent that filled my home was divine. Though I was feeling quite a lot of emotional upheaval from all the changes happening in my little world, I was completely comforted by that smell and the action of slow stirring, rolling out the crusts, and constructing the pies.
The good thing about chicken pot pie is that you don’t have to eat it right away. It often freezes beautifully and is one of those meals that sometimes tastes best the second (or third) time around, after all the ingredients have had some time to meld together. I wanted to give my friends and neighbor something that they didn’t have to eat right away, if it wasn’t what they wanted in that moment, or, especially in the case of my neighbor, could pick away at over the course of a week, at least one meal a day that she didn’t have to worry about.
When we went to visit our friends and their baby girl, I brought the pie (and flowers, a homemade toy for the baby, chocolate, Mother’s Milk tea, and, because who doesn’t need this after a baby, some beer). Giving gifts, for me, is very much a selfish act. I love the feeling invoked by eyes lighting up and the appreciative, “Thank you! We so needed this!” I want to present those I care about with things that will have meaning and bring comfort. And it was certainly a worthy exchange, these gifts that contained a bit of my time and love, for the new parents looks of pleasure and some time with them and their perfect little one (even if it did leave me with some intense baby fever).
A couple of days later I found myself with a spare couple of hours with no children or husband in sight and decided it was time to pull the pie from the fridge and, along with some chocolate chip cookies, go down to the next-door-neighbors. I had held off for a bit, from the time I purchased a sympathy card and made the pie, ’til then. I’m a naturally very anxious person and interacting with people I don’t know well (despite having lived next door to them for several years) can induce hives from shear nerves. But I knew that I would kick myself if I wasted this opportunity to reach out, and so I summoned my courage and took the small walk down the street.
My neighbor, a slim woman in her early 70s, came to the door within a moment of my knock, her dogs erupting with noise. As she wrangled her two rowdy pups, she blinked at me, a bit confused, trying to place this wayward person before her. When who I was clicked with her, she invited me in and ushered her dogs into another room. When she came back, for lack of anything else to say, she asked, “What brings you here?”
Likely she already knew the answer, but I said, “I had heard about your husband — I’m so sorry — and I wanted to bring you this.” I held out an reusable grocery back that held the pie, cookies, and card. She accepted the bag and sort of peered inside.
“I baked a chicken pot pie and some cookies,” I explained. “I know how hard it can be to feel like cooking a meal with your world has been tipped upside down.” She smiled at me and nodded gratefully. A great swell of relief flooded my churning stomach.
“I haven’t really felt like cooking at all,” she told me. “I’ve found that I keep picking up pre-made things at the store, but you know, those really aren’t that good for you.” She placed the bag on her counter and invited me to sit. “Actually, you’ve brought this at the perfect time. My son is coming up from Texas tonight and we’ll be able to have this for dinner.”
And so began a visit that lasted for nearly two hours, where I learned that my neighbor had three sons with her husband and four grandchildren. I found out that she and her husband had driven across country with their oldest two boys in the early ’70s after her husband left the Navy. They had come to Maine on a whim. Her husband got a job in Augusta and they came out here without ever visiting the area, just knowing that she wanted a place with lots of trees and lakes and mountains after a childhood on the plains of North Dakota. I found out what pin-curls were and what the strange plants (plume poppies) were that grow in our backyard. It was one of the nicest and most interesting chats I’d had with anyone in a while, leaving me both energized and sorry I hadn’t been over any sooner, regretting it took the death of my neighbor’s husband to bring us together.
I’ve written before how this season has been a funny one for me, hard in lots of ways, but these small acts of making and visiting, extending myself out to others as a way to get out of my own head and own way, has filled me up so tremendously. Being busy doing for others, whether friends, neighbors, or in my work, is helping to tamp down the bastion of internal negativity and struggle I’ve been unexpectedly slapped with of late. It’s made me realize I need to do it more, pour out all that love I have in me, but am having a hard time absorbing for myself, and put it into things for others, knowing that the good it does them will flow back into me.
(Note: the chicken pot pie recipe I used can be found here.)