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Gary Buys a Sandwich

A baby carrot crossed my threshold. Let’s face it: carrots aren’t supposed to look like that – perfect identical oblong shapes prone to sliminess. What could possibly be in the fluid that keeps those carrots so moist? I’m a food purist and a trash minimalist. Most of what I buy doesn’t come in a package, so if I can’t pull a few carrots from my front-yard garden, I usually head to the farmers’ market to see what they have. I even harvested yeast from the peels of a locally grown apple, added flour and water, and my sour dough bread starter was born. For over a decade, I’ve fed that gummy concoction once or twice a week and use it to bake bread. Often, I send my kid out to the trampoline with a jar of heavy cream and tell her to come back when it’s turned to butter. She jumps and jumps and jumps until a lump of goodness forms in the middle of the jar. We pour off the juice – pure buttermilk – to make pancake batter, then rinse and salt the ball that’s left behind. Fresh butter on a steaming slice of crusty bread is delicious.

Cancer changed all that. My husband doesn’t have a problem with baby carrots and he wouldn’t miss it much if my smelly sour dough starter landed in the disposal. He doesn’t consider how various textures are going to pair with each other when he packs our daughter’s lunch or if raisins will be too sweet in a chicken salad. He has his own way. “We’ll be there in five minutes,” I heard him say into his phone one rare morning when I was up before Lauren had to go to school. My head was bald, my arms were bony, and my skin was see through. “Who was that?” I asked. “Don’t worry about it,” Gary said, suddenly looking guilty. Lauren was cracking up. “It was Pat, Mommy. He makes sandwiches for me.” That’s when I learned that my daughter ran into the corner deli on the way to school to pick up her lunch. Pat, the store’s proprietor and the town’s Emergency Medical Technician, prepared and wrapped a sandwich most mornings that year. Our town is small, and Lauren’s school was smaller – only eighty students, grades kindergarden through eight. All the kids had to brown-bag it because hot lunch wasn’t offered. They ate at picnic tables outside because there wasn’t even a cafeteria. While our Northern California home offered spectacular beauty and uncrowded streets, it’s fair to say it lacks a few services. When I got my cancer diagnosis, that lack put my husband in a serious bind. I was too sick to help out with our family business, so Gary lost his business partner. In many respects, Lauren lost her mom, so Gary pulled double parent duty. And they both lost their cook because normally, there’s nothing I enjoy more than making a mess in the kitchen. During chemo, though, even the smell of some food made me sick, and my energy level was at an all-time low. The nearest supermarket required a drive to the next town over, and no area restaurants offered delivery, not even Treasure Cove Pizza, a local favorite. Gary got creative. “I’m doing it ‘the guy way,’” he told me several times when he saw a flicker of worry cross my brow. Involuntarily, I’d cringe when he’d rip open a package and slide something frosty into the microwave. How would Lauren survive without Swiss Chard and other leafy greens? That year, I learned that my way isn’t the only way. In fact, it’s not even necessarily the best way. While our mail piled up, our rental properties suffered neglect, our kid ate frozen entrees, and I fought for my survival, my husband handled the management of our lives. I discovered deep pockets of love and competence I couldn’t have imagined. My husband showed me the very definition of support, and he did it with a sense of humor and daring. I still hate baby carrots, but I admit that they’re handy. And even though they get a little slimy, now, they taste like love. This piece was published first at

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