Sunday, May 09, 2010

Some thoughts on my mother and rhubarb

It's Mother's Day, and my mom is dying of breast cancer.   Actually, to put it the way of her new oncologist, she has "breast cancer that's not curable".    I am not sure if her old oncologist ever gave her the news of her prognosis: it's hard to tell because she has tumors in her brain and it makes her forget things.   But for a whole host of reasons, including a phlebotomist that reminds me of Nurse Ratched in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and a doctor that means well but he's over 70 and keeps mistaking my mother for other patients, we decided to get a "second opinion" from the oncologist who the hospice people recommended. He gave her the news that her cancer isn't curable and she decided to ditch the chemo that she's been on FOR YEARS as prescribed by her old oncologist.   She feels powerful now, and took great delight in firing her old doctor.   But the fact of the matter is that the tumors are everywhere, and her back is hurting her (probably more tumors) and her lungs need to be drained 3x a week because there is a tumor growing in there, too.  And of course, there is the brain tumors and all the radiation she had which makes her memory all wonky.  But one thing she remembers is that she loves rhubarb, so I picked some up at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market yesterday to make her something for Mother's Day.

Every Sunday, my mother's oldest sister and I drive to Warren to visit my mom and to have lunch with her.  Some Sundays, she has a list of household chores she would like us to do.  My parents home is a lot like the show "Hoarders", because my mom grew up poor in West Viginia and my dad in Hamtramck during the Depression.  They like to keep things around, just in case.    So, it's a little bit comical when my mother wants me to dust the ceiling fan in the kitchen when there are many rooms in their house where there are only pathways to walk through their stuff.   But as my aunt says, "She just lays there all week,  thinking of things for us to clean" clean we do, even if it doesn't make much sense.   My aunt, whose house is so clean you could perform surgery on the kitchen floor, also grew up in WVa but somehow missed out on the hoarding thing, usually brings her Swifter broom with her for these visits, just in case something needs sweeping.    I can tell my mom is doing worse...we hire a nurse to come in to take care of my dad, and last night, she ended up having to help my mom who got up at 3:30 am to "get a cup of coffee" and fell down.   When we got there, she didn't have any chores for us, which is odd.   My guess is she can't remember what it was she wants us to do.

We make a big deal, as we always do, about where we're going to get lunch.  Usually, it's Wendy's for a chicken sandwich.   They are only 99 cents, which appeals to my mom, even though it's been a long time since she has had her wallet and checkbook.  My sister pays all her bills now because she can't write a check.   Occaisionally, she sleeps with her purse because she worries the night nurse might steal her money, but since the wallet/checkbook isn't in it, the point is moot.   So, for lunch my aunt or I am buying.  The chicken sandwich is a "good deal", so my mom likes it.   Today, we talked her into carryout from one of her favorites, Country Oven, which caters to the senior citizen crowd.   They were very busy, with everyone taking Grandma there for Mother's Day.  It was kind of sad that she doesn't have the energy to go there.  I remember right after she got diagnosed, we went there and she remembered to put on her wig because the chemo made her lose her hair.  She forgot to pencil in her brows, though, so she made me wait while she drew some on in the car.   In the twilight, she didn't realize she grabbed an eyeliner pencil and we both laughted until we cried when we got in the restaurant and noticed she had pencilled on some bright blue eyebrows.   That was years ago now....

She asked me to pull ahead her appointment with the new oncologist, so I will.  My aunt gave her a rub off lottery ticket, and she rubbed off all the parts except where you were supposed to rub off.  It was confusing to her.  So I rubbed it off - we didn't win this week.  For years, my mom got mad at my dad for buying lottery tickets, but now she loves them, even if the tumors screw up figuring out if she won.  But one thing that is still the same for her is her love of rhubarb.   Today, she and her sister were reminiscing about how their mother made them rhubarb pie all the time when they were kids.   I made rhubarb pie for my mother for Easter, but she said it was too sour.   Now that she's off the chemo, the rhubarb crisp tasted just right to her.   Here's how I did it:

Rhubarb Crisp

5 c. sliced rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 c. sugar
3 T. flour
For the topping:
1/2 cup regular rolled oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup chopped walnuts


Place rhubarb in an ungreased 2-quart square baking dish. Stir in the granulated sugar and flour. For topping, in a mixing bowl combine oats; brown sugar; flour; ginger. With a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in nuts. Sprinkle topping over filling.  Bake in a 375 degree F oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until fruit is tender and topping is golden. If desired, serve warm with ice cream or light cream.

I can remember my mother making rhubarb pie for me as a kid - it still is my favorite kind of pie.  Don't spoil it by adding in Michigan, the rhubarb comes in at least a month before the strawberries do, anyway.  My mom's rhubarb patch in the back yard is long gone, but she has a wonderful green thumb so I picked her a bouquet from the remains of the lilacs, the snowball bush flowers, azaleas and some plant she can't remember but it has purple flowers.   She was tired and saved most of her crisp for after dinner, which is a sure sign she isn't feeling well today.   I'm not sure she realized today is Mother's Day, but I am hoping she has a restful day and night.


Yenta Mary said...

What a sweet story of true love and devotion. Add my wishes that your mother may find rest and comfort ....

Buttercup said...

You are absolutely right about not spoiling rhubarb with strawberries. I've never understood that.

So sorry to hear about your mother. I lost my own mother from cancer and she also had a doctor who was over the hill and I think led in part to her death. It leaves a hollow that can never be filled. You are doing absolutely the right thing in making her life better for now - wish I had been able to do that for mine.

Best to you and your mother. She is lucky to have such a daughter.

Kathy W said...

MK -- I'm so sorry about your mom. Your story about your Sunday gatherings is so adorable. God bless you and your mom through this ordeal. I'll be thinking of you.

SlowRunner said...

Your blog post was very touching.

Mother's Day is tough for me as my mom passed away four years ago. Thanks for sharing this special story about your mom.

Canning Tomatoes said...

Your story about your Mother's Day with your mom was very touching to read. I am so sorry to hear about your mother; I wish peace, rest and comfort to you and your family during this difficult time.

Just made the rhubarb crisp and it is excellent. Instead of ground ginger I added 1/2 tsp. fresh minced ginger to the filling since we all love ginger in our family. Very good!

Alex Harrison said...

This was a truly touching entry. Thank you for sharing with us. (By the way, this is one of my favorite desserts, and my grandmother--who died of ovarian cancer and also drew in brows when she went out on the town--made it for us all the time.)

Mom said...

Thank you all for the thoughtful kind words!!

Tightwad Mom said...

I have recently started following your blog, and I love the recipes and stories. I would like to do something to show my appreciation, so please come visit my blog ( soon to receive your Versatile Blogger Award!

Diana Dyer said...

Rhubarb connects me to one of my grandmothers - like you, just "plain and simple" with a touch of sugar. As a result, we've have planted rhubarb every place we have ever lived.

Thank you for sharing such a challenging and poignant phase of life for you and your family.