The aroma of pasta sauce and roasting chicken wafted through the house.
A beautiful apple pie rested on the kitchen counter. I hummed “Here Comes Peter Cotton Tail” as I adjusted my best tablecloth before going to the china cabinet and getting three place settings, consisting of dinner plate, salad plate, and bread plate.
After carefully placing the proper utensils next to the plates, I added a water glass and a delicate wine goblet and stepped back to admire the table. Mike had folded cloth napkins into delicate winged swans to be placed in the center of the dinner plates. Silver candlesticks flanked a beautiful flower arrangement that complimented the décor perfectly. Just before calling the men to dinner, I’d cut the pie and placed three pieces on matching dessert plates, ready to be served when the time came.
Rodger had looked pleased when Mike and I went into his sitting room and presented him with his Easter basket that morning.
“Happy Easter,” we greeted him.
“Happy Easter,” he replied. “What’s all this?”
“It’s some Easter candy to sweeten your day,” I said.
“They don’t have Easter candy in the old country. Easter is a religious day. Everybody goes to church,” Rodger said.
“It’s a religious holiday for people here too,” I explained. “But we also have the traditional Easter baskets.”
“Do I have to go to church?” he asked. “I only go to church when somebody marries or dies.”
“You don’t have to go to church if you don’t want to,” Mike assured him. “Enjoy your candy and join us later for dinner in the dining room. Bobbi is making a special dinner.”
“Who’s coming? Do I have to take a shower?”
“No one is coming. It will be the three of us. But it would be nice if you took a shower. You’ll be nice and clean for dinner.”
“I don’t need to take a shower to eat. I don’t need special food. I eat anything”
“We know you’ll eat anything,” I said. “But on holidays we like to have a special meal. And you don’t have to take a shower today but you will have to take one soon. You need it. I’ll call you when dinner’s ready.”
I could tell he was curious about what was going on when he came down to go for a walk and saw the table set in the dining room. He didn’t say anything but spent several minutes looking at it on his way out.
Even the weather was cooperating. The air was warm and the sun was shining. After his walk, Rodger sat on his bench in the front yard and watched the birds flitting between the two feeders hanging from the tree he watched grow from the day we moved in.
He had become a fixture in the neighborhood, taking his three daily walks. He knew when people were moving in and when a house was listed for sale. He kept track of who had dogs and if they barked when he passed by or not. He always let me know when anyone planted something new in their yard and when the Christmas decorations went up. He rarely spoke to anyone, but he knew who lived where and could tell if they changed their routine in any way.
Despite his earlier protest, when I called the men to dinner, Rodger arrived freshly showered and shaved, wearing clean clothes and a shy smile.
“Sit here, Dad,” Mike said as he pulled out the chair at the head of the table.
“Me, here?” he asked.
“Yes, you’re the guest of honor today.”
“Guest of honor. I’m not a guest of honor. I’m not special.”
“You are to us,” Mike and I said at the same time.
Rodger didn’t speak as he filled his dish with chicken and pasta. Nor did he say anything when I passed him a plate of salad and offered him some toasted garlic bread from the napkin-covered serving dish.
“Before we eat, let’s have a toast. Your wine glass has sparkling grape juice so you can drink too,” Mike told his father. “Happy Easter,” he said, raising his glass. “And to Rodger,” he added.
I lifted my glass to my father-in-law and repeated Mike’s toast.
“To Rodger. We’re so pleased you joined us to celebrate today. You look very nice.”
“Thank you,” he said. Then he lifted his fork and began to eat.
Everyone was quiet for several minutes, each lost in thought and enjoying the meal. When Rodger broke the silence and began to speak, Mike and I were stunned to see tears in his eyes.
“I never thought I’d have a meal like this, in a place like this. Everything is beautiful. The food, the dishes, flowers and candles, everything. I feel like a big shot.”
Dabbing at this eyes with his napkin, he looked around the room pointing to the delicately carved chairs and the gleaming china cabinets. He took a few moments to gaze at the framed print hanging on the wall. “Dinner at the Ritz,” it’s called. In it is depicted a group of Victorian ladies dining in their finery at flower-laden tables on a summer afternoon.
“Beautiful ladies,” he said. “Everything is nice. I never thought I’d have anything like this. I can’t believe I’m going to die here. I was born in a big house, and I’m going to die in a big house. Thank you.”
We didn’t know what to say. We had never seen him so touched by anything.
We didn’t know he could be moved like that. We were grateful and humbled at the same time. Whatever happened in the future, no matter how hard things got, we’d always have this moment with him.
As time passed and Rodger became more and more ill, I clung to the beauty of that day.
That Easter dinner is one of the many moments that convinced me that, despite the ravages of his illnesses, he was still in there somewhere and he appreciated those moments as much as I did.
This post was originally published on Bobbi Carducci’s blog, The Imperfect Caregiver, and can be found here.