Don't Take the First Casserole

I'm standing here with the refrigerator door open wide, staring at the shelves as if i am going to find something edible for dinner. My gut is running on empty, and I already know there's not a chance in hell I'm going to find anything in the refrigerator to eat. I am feasting my eyes on a carton of cottage cheese that died days ago, a milk carton with barely enough milk to cover my Grape Nuts in the morning, a head of brown lettuce, and a jar of olives, stuffed with pimento.

Bingo, I'll make myself a martini on the rocks and add three olives on a toothpick. Grabbing the olive jar, I avoid glancing down at the bottom shelf, the one above the hydrator, where the three-week old casserole sits. I know that underneath the foil covering, that casserole has to be moldy enough to trigger instant botulism. After shutting the refrigerator door, I head to the bar with the jar of olives.

If I had any sense, I would have stopped at the grocery store on the way home from golf at Deer Creek and picked up some ready-made food. They always have some prepared entrees by the deli counter in the back, like the tasty veggy lasagna I picked up last week. But I didn't stop. I just kept going down the cart path stewing about how crappy I played golf today.

I shot a damn 92, and my partner, Harry, a new sub in our group, drove me bonkers for eighteen holes. The tall, white-haired Harry, was nice enough and interesting, too. He has traveled the world. We had some good conversations, but the guy never had a clue where he hit his ball. I had enough trouble keeping track of my own ball, but today I had double duty. Several times, Harry walked up to my ball on the green thinking it was his. Maybe I should have let him putt it. I three-putted more greens than I care to think about.

I've got my martini made now, and it looks just about perfect. Too bad I can't play golf as well as I make drinks. I'm going to sit down in my chair now, put my feet up on the ottoman, and relax. Most evenings, I read several financial news reports to which I subscribe on the internet--my favorite is Richard Russell. After that I like to sit here in the living room with a drunk and catch up on the day's events. Some nights I get in the hot tub before my shower, but not tonight. Tonight I played poker online for awhile. And it's a good thing I am not at Las Vegas because, I'd be losing a bundle.

I like to sit here and look out the window, watch the boats coming in and out of Delegal Creek. I think that's Joe Dobb's coming in right now. He gives a grand tour of the waterways around this island passing out interesting information about the wildlife. We took his tour one time when the grandkids visited. We saw plenty of wild boars on Green Island ---some of them weighed way over 500 pounds. Joe pointed out all kinds of birds: green heron, osprey, egrets, pelicans, and way up in some tall trees, he showed us this massive eagle's nest. And then the real highlight, the dolphins. Those dolphins follow Joe;s boat likee puppies trailing their motherThe grandkids squealed with delight.

I had the news on for a while, but I just turned it off. I have heard as much mumbo jumbo as I can stomach about a posssible hurricane brewing in the Caribbean. Looking out my tall living room window, I watch a bunch of egrets fly in formation overheaon their way to their lagoon roost down the road.

After making a second drink. I start thinking about that blasted casserole in the refrigerator I've got to get rid of it. It came from Hope, an attractive blue-eyed brunette, who lives around the corner. I will never forget that day about three weeks ago when she came cruising up my driveway in her silver Porsche convertible. I was on a ladder pruning the lavender crepe myrtle on the right side of the driveway. She pulled up right next to me and said, "Hello, Drew. I'm Hope Greyson from around the corner." She smiled, a rather pleasant smile. She had nice white teeth.

Before I could say anything, Hope picked up a rectangular glass dish from the passenger seat. "My late husband, Frank, used to love this casserole. It's made with tuna, borccoli, noodles, and cheese." Stepping out of the car, she lifted a corner of the foil for me to see. "I made it for you,"she said., smiling.

"Thank you," I said. I didm't know what else to say. I didn't know Hope, but she seemed to know plenty about me. I figured on this island I was probably known as the guy down at the end of Marina Drive whose wife died.

I climbed down from the tree. Hope stood in front of me holding her casserole. She had on bright red pants and a navy and white striped top looking like a poster girl for the 4th of July. She made small talk. She didn't know all that much about me, I decided. For instance she didn't know that I hated tuna casserole with a passion and vetoed broccoli years ago. I stood there with sweat dripping off of me. I stared at the ground, wishing I could make a magic genie appear and get this woman to vanish.

"I'd better come inside and give you some cooking instructions. I forgot to write them down, Hope said. She started walking toward the house. I followed, not knowing what the hell else to do. After I opened the front door, she walked inside uninvited and charged up the inside stairs and into my kitchen. She placed the casserole on my dark green counter top next to the sink. When she asked for it, I gave her a pen and some note paper. She jotted down baking instructions for the casserole and put them on top of her dish.

"Oh, my God, just look at this gorgeous view you have ," Hope said as she gazed out the big window in the big living room. It's fantastic. You can see everything -- the marsh, the water, the boats, the golf course. What island is that over there in the distance? "

"It's Ossabaw." I explained a little bit about the island

I've seen your house from over there on number ten green on the Plantation course." She pointed to the left across the marsh. "You have quite the grand panorama. Oh, I could look at this for hours."

Oh I don't think so, I thought to myself as I wiped my dripping forehead with a handkerchief an then picked up the casserole and set it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.

"Drew, I love the open feeling in your house, the way the rooms just flow right into one another."

"Thanks" I said. We used an architect from downtown, and his design turned out ten times better than we expected.

"May I go out here?" Hope asked, peeking out onto the screened porch.

"Sure, go ahead," I said. She opened the door and sat down on one of the wrought-iron porch chairs. I followed her out onto the porch. "I'm sorry about your wife, Drew," Hope said. I heard you lost her, not long after you moved here. It is so sad. I know how you feel."

I hate it when people tell me they know how I feel. No one knows how I feel. This woman certainly didn't know how I felt. For one thing, I did not feel like having company. I felt like finishing my pruning job out front. Lying, I told Hope I had to meet some friends downtown at the cigar bar an needed to finish up outside so i could get ready.

"Oh, I'm so sorry to keep you. "I'll go' she said. "You have a great place here. I live the way you have used the natural marsh colors in your fabrics -- gold, green, blue, and that oh so subtle wine color. It has a comfortable feel to it."

"I appreciate your kind comments," I said . I hid a big grin as i walked her down the stairs and to her car.

I am so glad I got the chance to meet you," she said. Reaching into her purse,Hope pulled out a business card and handed it to me. "Call me sometime." She paused, looked me right in the eye and said, "Perhaps we could go to a movie, out to dinner, or you could come over to my house for dinner."

I took the card and waved goodbye, shaken by her boldness. Hope was attractive but her take charge attitude scared the hell out of me. I have had a couple of dates since Miranda died nine months ago. The guys in my Wednesday golf group and others people, too, kept harping at me to take out some of the island widows, insisting that I would have something in common with them. I tried, and it didn't work out at all, not at all. Both of the women I dated ended up in tears at the dinner table. One mention of their departed spouse, and they came unglued. It unnerved me. II've had enough trouble with my own loss. I certainly didn't need to wallow in an evening of sadness with someone else.

After I cleaned up outside, I went in the house and tossed Hope's business card in the trash. She didn't look like the weepy type, but neither did the others. I got into the shower thinking about Mirnda.

The whole truth is that I am not doing all that well with Miranda gone. I think abut her all the time. We were married for forty-five years, and I can't believe she's gone. Damn her anyhow. If she was home tonight, we wold be planning to have our dinner out on the porch. I miss our quiet evenings drinking wine, eating dinner, talking about the weather, politics, the books we were reading, and people we had encountered during the day. Miranda and I always had lots of laughs together. She had this wonderful dry sense of humor and told great stories.

Miranda and I spent two years building our retirement home. We lived in it less than a year, and then she did a number on me. She told me to never, ever go along when she went grocery shopping, but I did just this once. And she had to go and have a stroke in the cereal aisle.

I was upset, of course, but embarrassed and scared, too,. I can still picture her lying in the aisle right below the oatmeal and instant cheese grits shelf with me kneeling beside her. Her face went white with pain. People stared down at her and asked questions. "Call 911. Someone please call 911," I said, still holding the corrugated box I had turned over before she fell so I could see who had manufactured it. I worked in the corregated business, so I check boxes out of habit.

Then I heard the loud sirens. Two paramedics rushed inside the store and checked Miranda's vital signs.The look on their faces told me it was bad. When they lifted her onto the stretcher, she looked so helpless. I touched her hand and told her I would follow right behind. They carried her out the automatic door in front of the check out area.

At the hospital, they put her right into a cardiac unit, and hooked her up to an IV. Doctors and nurses flew in and out the door. A nurse did an EKG. "It doesn't look good," a doctor said. I gave him the name of my own cardiologist. But the doctor said it was too late. She had suffered a massive heart attack. "Dave,I will always love you," she said in a weak whisper, holding onto my hand. I told her I loved her, and then in typical Miranda style, she said. "Don't forget to clean your hairbrush. She smiled and minutes later she took her last breath.

The phone rang breaking my train of thought. It was my next door neigh neighbor, Pat, wanting to know if I wanted to go to the marina in our neighborhood with for the Wednesday night shrimp dinner. Pat and her husband, Barry, were meeting another couple. They wanted me to join them.

I'd love to," I said. "You have saved me from starvation." My mouth watered as I walked to the marina a few minutes later on a beautiful summer evening. I envisioned a plate full of fresh shrimp. Usually I don't like tagging along with other couples, but I always feel comfortble with my neighbors.

When I arrived at the marina, Pat and Barry introduced me to their friends Nancy and Jim. "You doing okay," Pat asked. She was a good neighbor, the kind who had enough sense to leave a guy alone and also, on occasion invite me over for dinner.

We ordered our shrimp and then discussed the pros and cons of living on Skidaway Island. We talked about all of the places we had lived before we moved to The Landings community. I told them about my new volunteer job working with hospice patients. Jim described his afternoons tutoring math students at Bethesda Boys Home. Pat relayed a funny story about the time she and Miranda got lost coming home from playing golf. We ended up a shot gun on Palmetto number 13 and decided to take side streets back to the clubhouse. We kept making wrong turns. Neither of us had any idea where we were. It was dark out by the time I dropped Miranda off back at her car in the club parking lot. By then we were doubled over with laughter. We chuckled at Pat's story. I could picture Miranda's happy face.

As we sat peeling and eating shrimp sprinkled with Old Bay seasoning, we said hello to several people who passed by. I'd cleared off my plate, washed my shrimpy hands in the men's room and sat back down to finish my beer when I heard a familiar voice.

"Hello Drew." It was Hope, the casserole lady. "It's great to see you." She was with two other womem. All of them carried a plate of shrimp. "This shrimp looks delicious, doesn't it," Hope said.

"It"s quite good," I said." She introduced me to her friends, and I introduced the couples at my table. Hope wore an attractive blue sundress and gold hoop earrings. She said something about seeing us later

"Hmm, she seems interested in you," Pat said. I told them the casserole tale and how, after three weeks, it still sat in my refrigerator. Everyone laughed.

"I"m sure she's nice enough, I said, and she's nice looking, too, but I haven't had much luck in the dating arena. Besides Miranda always said if she died first, she'd watch me like a hawk. They laughed. We sat in silence, watching the sun go down behind Delegal Creek.

"Drew, I hate to mention this . I don't think you noticed, but Hope was still in the area when you were telling us about the casserole. I think she may have heard you making fun of her."

I tried not to think about the possibility. It made me feel like a jerk. Instead, I thought of the night, not long before she died when Miranda said, "Lets don't ever take each other for granted. If one of us should die let's promise to go on with our lives as a tribute to one another." Then she added, just remember that I am a damn good catch, even after more than forty years of marriage. I have a good sense of humor, I'm not fat, and I love sex,, she had whispered as she nibbled his ear. Drew chuckled

"What are you laughing about," Pat said

"Oh, just a fun memory," I said. While the others visited, I thought about Miranda who, as usual was right on target. I needed to heed her advice. It was high time I topped being a stuffed shirt and have some fun.

Moments later when the tiny no-see-em bugs started attacking us, we decided to call it an evening. Hope walked past with her friends just as we were getting up from the table.

"Oh, Drew, do you mind if I stop by your house and pick up my casserole dish," she said. "I can take it home with me.

"Uh, well... no, that's not a good idea. Not tonight, uh I mean... the truth is I was going to bring it to you tomorrow night. Is that okay?"

"Sure," Hope said with a twinkle in her eyes. That would work out just great."

"Don't anyone say a word," I said as I walked home with my neighbors.


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