Darla sticks her head through the doorway.
Darla: He’s feeling a little better. He said, “Tell them to shut the hell up.”
Tata: Hooray! Let’s go upstairs!
I’m sitting on the floor of the upstairs bedroom my sisters sleep in. They’re allergic to cats and the rest of the house is full of them, so my sisters are pretty much S.O.L. as far as little things like breathing are concerned. Todd is so allergic to everything, he spends half his time running the wet/dry vac in the garage, which we just call “Todd’s office.” And it’s not like anybody worried until Todd vacuumed up a nest today and everyone spilled out of the garage, shouting, “What do we do with a vacuum cleaner full of wasps?”
Tata: Since you’re asking me, I say you lock the garage door and go back in December.
A few days ago, Daria and I sat with Daddy and a funny subject came up.
Daria: The freezer is full of ingredients and not food. We’re trying to cook for Darla and keep finding things we can’t identify.
Dad: Like what?
Tata: I found something I can’t identify, too!
Daria ran to the kitchen. I ran after. Daria returned with something I hadn’t seen. I came back with something else.
Daria: What’s this, Daddy?
Dad: Gingerbread. Throw that away.
Daria: What do we do with the yucca?
Dad: Whatever you want. Yucca is delicious.
Tata: Daddy, what’s this?
Dad: Pork roast. Convection oven, 250 degrees to an internal temperature of …
Tata: Did…did you say “an internal temperature of 160”?
Dad: ONE HUNDRED FORTY and NO MORE.
Tata: I’ve got a Sharpie and I’m writing directions.
Soon, the kitchen table was filled with answers for Jeopardy category THINGS ONLY DAD COULD IDENTIFY, ALEX and by the time we’d reached the $1000 question, Dad was feeling puckish.
Tata: What’s this?
Dad: Vegetable soup.
I turned on my heel.
Dad: …I think…
Tata: I heard that!
I turned back to squint and he was laughing so I had to tell Daria, “Daddy’s done telling us the truth so watch it!” We ventured one further question:
Daria: What the hell is this thing?
Dad: It’s a chicken with feet and head on. My grandmother used to braise them and we’d suck the chicken feet like they were the most delicious thing ever. Then she gave me the head and I’d eat the wattle and break open the skull and eat the brain. It was fantastic.
Tata: How long should I thaw this thing? It looks like it sank the Titanic.
Dad: Three days in the fridge.
Daria: And then there’s a chicken with the freaking FEET AND HEAD ON!
Regardless, we labeled and thawed. Tonight, I roasted the chicken because Daddy had been very clear this chicken would taste differently than factory-farm chicken, and taste is utterly crucial. Daria happened to be handy when I was preparing the chicken, so she helped me with the seasoning I couldn’t touch because I was touching raw chicken. Gradually, the smell of roasting chicken permeated the house, making bearable what else Darla, Daria and I cleaned up and no one needs mention. Dad woke up from a deep sleep and said to Darla, “What smells really good?” At the same time, Todd and I consulted about doneness, tenting and carry over cooking in the next room, which when you think about it is a tremendous accomplishment of kitchen instruction on Dad’s part. We let the chicken rest to redistribute the fluids and when it came time to cut the chicken, everyone said, “NOT ME!”
Though we are the kids, I am the oldest woman in the house so I took the biggest, sharpest knife I could find and sliced up the chicken in a less than especially skillful way. Todd watched from across the kitchen, where presumably a knife slip might be more hilarious than immediately injurious – to him. I’d laid out leftover salads, grilled vegetables, melons, slaws and fruit compotes on the kitchen table, along with plates and cutlery. Darla appeared in the kitchen and said something that made my blood run cold.
Darla: Your dad would like to see the chicken before it’s cut.
Tata: Aggh! Tell him I’ve gone into the Witness Protection Program!
…but I sucked it up and went to see Dad alone to disappoint him.
Dad: The chicken smells good. Really good.
Tata: Thank you, Daddy. I just finished slicing it up for dinner.
Dad: Who’s eating out there?
Tata: My brother, sisters and Darla. That’s all. They’re loud, huh?
Dad: That’s it? Really?
Tata: I wanted Dara to have a little bit of normal, which is to say dinner where she sits down. It seemed important, considering how utterly crazy life has become. So right now she’s sitting with Daria, Todd and Darla. There’s salad.
Dad: Thank you.
Tata: Don’t worry, Daddy. You said this chicken would taste different.
Dad: How did you prepare it?
Tata: I rubbed it with olive oil, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and basted with butter. I omitted garlic and anything that might bother you, just in case you wanted to taste it.
Dad: Thank you, I can’t.
Tata: Okay, it’s not important. You said we should taste the actual chicken, so I didn’t want to extravagantly season.
Tata: I roasted it at 325 to an internal temperature of 158, then tented it to rest.
Dad: How did you carve it?
Tata: I cut through the leg, thigh and wing joints, hacked through the neck and sliced the breast meat.
Dad: On or off the bone?
Tata: On. I know the trick but I didn’t want to try it in front of the critics a the kitchen table.
Dad: My grandmother braised these chickens. You can cook them in a crockpot. The collagen from the feet will thicken the stew for you. Are you going to try the feet?
Tata: I will. Next time I use this kind of chicken I’ll braise it.
Dad: In the kitchen above the rack, there’s a clay baking dish. Have you used one of those?
Tata: I haven’t.
Dad: I…I’m too weak to explain it.
Tata: Are you sure there’s nothing I can get you?
Dad: No, thank you, my kid.
Tata: Would you like to rest now, Daddy?
Tata: Okay, Daddy.
I kissed his cheek, he kissed my hand and I closed the living room door behind me to cut the sound of my siblings’ mad chatter. Darla finished eating and crept into the sickroom. Half an hour later, a nurse from the hospice agency arrived at the house and started a saline drip, which cleared some of the medication fog. Daria, Todd, Dara and I sat in the kitchen, singing while Todd played the guitar Dad gave him. Later, things got a little raucous when the ice cream came out, and Darla made her hilarious cameo appearance. We grabbed a bottle of wine and ran upstairs, giggling.
Daria: Daddy told us to shut up!
Tata: Daddy sent us to our room!
And we were happy because Dad was cranky again.