AUNT MARY WANTS A CHEF AT THE NURSING HOME
I’m glad you’re early. You won’t believe this restaurant.
These people need help. We get white linen on Sunday,
and the wallpaper’s nice enough, but the food? Terrible.
I think they toss meat in boiling water and throw in
canned vegetables. Dessert is pudding or stewed fruit.
Once in a while, bad pie—all crust and no cherries
or apples. I told Jimmy he needs to teach the cooks
a couple of sauces, something with wine or at least
a little oregano. I said, My son is a chef. He can help you.
We used to have a restaurant. They thought I was pazza.
That’s what they think we all are here. Besides, Jimmy
could use some part-time work. He quit his chef job
at the country club to come here every day. He could make
a nice roast or pastries. Remember how we used to sit
on the porch and put butter on Country Club crackers?
Gustoso. These people don’t know what a Country Club cracker is.
Per favore. We used to make good biscotti too and ice them nice.
Sometimes Jimmy makes some and brings them warm. Maybe you
could take us out next Sunday to a different restaurant, bring
a bigger car so I can get my wheelchair in, maybe bring
a nice girl for Jimmy. He’s never going to find someone here.
Good thing you’re early. You can see for yourself.
Author’s Comment: This poem is part of a collection of Aunt Mary poems that I began writing after my aunt spent seven years in a nursing home. At first, her mind was fine, but she could no longer walk. In time, she developed Sundowners and sometimes thought she was in a bad hotel or her living room. Sometimes she thought what was happening on television was real life with our family as opposed to strangers on television. She was unintentionally funny and had a great Italian personality, but the poems also try to capture the unfortunate parts of a nursing home.
Bio: Maryfrances Wagner’s books include Salvatore’s Daughter (BkMk) Red Silk (MidAm) and Light Subtracts Itself. (MidAm). Red Silk won the Thorpe Menn Book Award in 2000. Her poems have appeared in literary magazines including New Letters, Midwest Quarterly, Laurel Review, Beacon Review, anthologies and textbooks including Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry (Penguin Books) and The Dream Book, An Anthology of Writings by Italian American Women (winner of the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation). She is co-editor of the I-70 Review and former president of The Writers Place in Kansas City.
I recognize Aunt Mary and hear her voice in this poem. So familiar it brings tears to my eyes.
I worked in a nursing home for fifteen years. If I had been given a dollar for every time a resident complained about the food, I probably would have been rich enough to buy the nursing home and hire a chef. This poem takes me back to those days.
Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap:
Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver