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The usual Sunday suspects.

I KNEW MY MOTHER-IN-LAW had finally lost it when she turned to me in mid-bite during dinner one evening and said: “You know, you’re a good cook.”

I almost choked.

By that point in my marriage I had long ago accepted the fact that I’d never satisfy Annie’s culinary expectations.

How could I? She never acknowledged meeting those standards herself. Never thought anything she made was good enough, even though she, like her mother, Marietta, was an exceptional Neapolitan cook.

Way before Guy Fieri came on the scene, Annie’s mantra was, “You need to put flavor in it!” Yet, she always insisted her own cooking veered off the road far short of Flavortown.

THERE HAD BEEN DECADES of sumptuous Sunday suppers at Annie’s house in the East Falls section of Philadelphia, where I would profess deep affection for, say, the outstanding tomato sauce. Her reply?

“I don’t’ think it came out good today.”

Or the magnificent meatballs.

“They could have used more cheese.”

Or the pristine pasta.

“I should have taken them out of the water sooner.”

If Annie played Goldilocks, they’d have to change the line where she declares the porridge “Just right,” to “It could use more salt.”

When it came to cooking, the word “perfect” was not in her vocabulary.

IN 2013, ANNIE WAS 83 YEARS OLD, living alone after her husband’s death and managing quite well with support from my husband, Ray, and me. We would visit often and she, of course, loved to cook for us.

During the course of that year, however, the once expertly prepared dishes that flowed from her tiny galley kitchen started coming to the table in various states of disarray: undercooked chicken, two dishes of the same vegetable, and sauce that actually did not come out good today. We knew something was seriously wrong.

Like a stunning souffle that suddenly begins to gently collapse upon itself, Annie’s skills to prepare food continued deflating until even her desire to cook disappeared.

Ray and Annie at the nursing home.

SHE'S 92 NOW, and at the nursing home Sunday Supper is more likely to be roast beef au jus with carrots, mashed potatoes, and a baked apple, rather than escarole soup, followed by rigatoni, meatballs and braciola, followed by roasted chicken and veggies, followed by Ambrosia, followed by cannoli.

And the many months of forced-isolation during the early days of Covid have taken their toll. Pre-pandemic, a visit might elicit a fantasy invitation: “Stop over the house. I’ll make you something.”

These days, however, she’ll just offer a jaunty “Stick around.”

What Annie likes best, though, is when Ray brings sweets on his daily visits. Her favorites are Tastykake vanilla sugar wafers, lemon Italian water ice, or a cup of vanilla soft-serve ice cream.

She indulges eagerly with a smile across her face and without critique.

Her only assessment now, simple and sincere: “You’re a good guy.”

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I understand how one self implodes, my sister has a rare form of dementia which slowly is taking her executive function.

your story was awesome and you are so talented! Thank you for sharing!

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