Sunday, January 25, 2009

Just Throw a Casserole At It

The tale I'm going to tell tonight is bizarre and unsettling in the extreme. Early last week, in a nice neighborhood just a mile or so from here, a ten year-old girl, whom I'll call Red, was riding her bike to a friends' house. She and the friend had both auditioned to sing in the school talent show. Since they had both, big surprise to anyone who knows a tweenie girl, sung Taylor Swift's "Our Song" for the audition, the committee decided to have them sing it together. (This is not the bizarre part, though I will admit the thought of said performance is a bit unsettling.) Red was going to the friend's house for practice.

A golden colored sedan was cruising around the neighborhood at the same time--later it would be discovered that the car was stolen and being driven by a 25 year-old homeless man--likely looking for a hapless victim. Seeing Red on her bike, he RAN HER DOWN. Red is a bit of a spitfire and had the presence of mind to jump up and begin running away, despite having just been hit by a car. Before she got far, Psycho was out of the car and dragging her by the hair into the passenger side. Red screamed. And screamed. And the neighbors came.

Before anyone had time to react, Red was pulled into the car and Psycho took off. At this point, three things happened simultaneously: the mother of Red's friend called Red's mother, a second neighbor called 911, and a third neighbor jumped in her car and took off after Psycho.

Red's mother was at the scene just as the police pulled up, feeling her heart ripped out at the sight of a single shoe left behind and Red's bike twisted and wrecked on the side of the road. While a plan was formed and an APB with the car's description was sent to every police officer in the city and the surrounding communities, the chasing neighbor returned. She reported the direction the car had gone, but admitted that Psycho had just been going too fast and she couldn't keep up. She also had forgotten her cell phone and the only way she could relay what she had learned of the route Psycho and Red had taken was to come back.

At some point, Psycho pulled over and had Red alone for a few minutes. That is where it gets a little bit murky, but it seems that Red wasn't going down without a fight and Psycho was concerned about being caught so he took off again. He hadn't gone more than few miles when he ran straight into a strip of tire rippers laid down by the officers on duty in the nearest community in the direction he was headed.

The sedan wrecked in a ditch; Red was rushed to the hospital and treated for a broken arm and given a thorough exam while the prosecutor paced outside, adding up the charges that would be laid at Psycho's feet. Meanwhile, Psycho was treated for some minor injuries at the local jail where Red's mother, quite honestly, hope he rots for eternity. And Red's father? Well, at one point he set out in his truck with a loaded shotgun to bring Red home, so Red's mother is grateful that she doesn't have a husband in jail on top of all of this.

Many of these details were in the newspaper. But not all of them. I'm privy to this incredible story because I visit teach Red's mother, and I've tutored Red on several occasions. (It was Red's mother who made the Jedi Master's adorable black and white starry fondant cake for his birthday.) This kind of thing never happens to people you know. Except when it does.

As the Relief Society President and I made our way over to Red's house the morning after this had all happened, I said to her, "I bet the handbook doesn't have any guidelines for THIS situation." I smiled slightly, trying to somehow help the mood of gloom we carried with us.

Very gravely, she replied, "You know, most of what the sisters go through has no easy answer. I never know what to do, really."

"When in doubt bake?" I smiled again.

She smiled this time too, and said that she had been talking about that very thing with her husband two nights previously because she often felt helpless against an onslaught of problems and that the best she could usually was throw a casserole at every difficulty. She perhaps expected her husband, not a member, to agree. Instead, he said, "But at least they know that you are thinking about them, that you care about them, and you are there if they need anything."

I took my turn throwing a casserole at this terrible situation--chicken enchiladas (which seemed a little chintzy so I also threw a big bag of greasy Frito's and a quart of strawberry vanilla ice cream)--as well as volunteering to do some tutoring for Red while she gets caught up in classes she was already struggling in. I spent some time talking with Red's mom when I took the food: we hugged and cried and talked with relief about how much worse it could have been and expressed gratitude for a community that works together. Today at church our Relief Society lesson was about service and the teacher talked about trying to get creative with our own talents and find ways to serve that only we could do. I knew I hadn't done much, but the lesson made me feel good about the service I'd rendered Red's family this week.

Then I spoke to Red's mom who told me she had dishes for me in the car. "How did you like it?" I said, with no real trepidation. I don't think I've ever taken anything that people weren't really complimentary about and my own family gobbled up the enchiladas, no problem. She replied, "Um, they were really spicy; the kids wouldn't really eat them. They gave me a stomach ache because I finally ate three of them when I could get enough sour cream on them." I smiled. I apologized. I felt helpless.

So it is okay to throw a casserole at a problem. Just not THAT casserole. And maybe not THAT problem.


FoxyJ said...

Um, wow. I also tend to throw food at problems. When my BIL died suddenly several years ago the house filled up with food almost immediately. Many of us didn't have an appetite, but it was nice to know that people cared. And we eventually got hungry and it was nice not to have to deal with thinking about feeding everyone while planning the funeral, etc. So even if food isn't really the right thing, it's usually a good way to get in the door and let people know you care about them. Often there isn't anything more tangible that you can do.

denedu said...

It's scary to think about situations like these. We never, as you stated, think they will happen to use or anyone we know. Makes me rethink putting my boys in karate. I think I could handle them beating each other to a pulp using it...if I thought it could help in a situation like this.

Suburban Hippie said...

What a tough cookie!

I agree with Red's dad that it's about letting the person know you're there for them and that you want to help. It's hilarious that the dinner was too spicy (especially since your kids probably eat it like that.)

Karin said...

I've had this same conversation with a very dear friend from high school that I keep in touch with. There's nothing to say to make anything better...there's no way that you can or should say "I know how you're feeling" or any other such cliche. At least, we have food as an option. :-) When I would call this friend with news that we were in the hospital *again*, she would invariably bring me some food from Wild Oats.At one point, she apologized and said she just didn't know what else to do. As LDS women we learn very early on to just "throw a casserole at it". I don't think that's a terrible thing. Like someone else mentioned, it allows those who are grieving to not have to worry about food. It was really just the company of my friend that I craved, but she felt so helpless coming to me with empty arms, so she always brought food. It was very appreciated.

Just as a side note, I was watching Lars and the Real Girl (a great film, BTW) and at one point, the "girl" is dying. Lars comes downstairs to find a few women sitting in his living room with various handwork projects. He asked "what are you doing here?" and they answered, "this is what friends do when disaster strikes...we come and sit" I think that is a similar thing. In our culture it is the food that makes those not in the crisis feel like they have somehow conveyed their love and willingness to help to those in crisis. I think those in crisis know that. I know I did when it was me.

Sorry, lots to say on this topic, making food for those we love and want to help, is okay at the worst of times and a wonderful respite at the best. I don't know how cooking something with love can ever go wrong. (Even if it may be too spicy) :)

chris w said...

What a terrifying story - but so glad she's back home and safe.
Whenever I hear about this topic I think of the scene in Steele Magnolias where Sally Fields is crying and screaming over her daughter and she wants to hit something. Her friend pushes Wheezer at her and says "hit her!" It happens to be the perfect thing.
We always feel uncomfortable and worry that we won't say what's right. There isn't anything right to say. Just being there and bringing a too spicy casserole is the right thing to do. It's how we mourn with those who morn and comfort those in need of comfort.
Just throw a casserole, a Wheezer or a hug at it. :) Can't go wrong.

chris w said...

What a terrifying story - but so glad she's back home and safe.
Whenever I hear about this topic I think of the scene in Steele Magnolias where Sally Fields is crying and screaming over her daughter and she wants to hit something. Her friend pushes Wheezer at her and says "hit her!" It happens to be the perfect thing.
We always feel uncomfortable and worry that we won't say what's right. There isn't anything right to say. Just being there and bringing a too spicy casserole is the right thing to do. It's how we mourn with those who morn and comfort those in need of comfort.
Just throw a casserole, a Wheezer or a hug at it. :) Can't go wrong.

Doreen said...

That is so scary! Goodness, what is the world coming to... That girl sure put up a fight! I'm glad it was a (relatively) happy ending. I'm sure the meal was appreciated, even if it was too spicy. :o)

Janssen said...

Wow, that really is terrifying. I hope that I'd react as well as it seems everyone did.

emandtrev said...

Holy CRAP. That is horrifying! I'm so glad that it turned out as well as it did. As for throwing a casserole at it, I say good for you. It was a wonderful gesture. You can't please everyone all the time--especially when it comes to food.

tnralvords said...

WOWZA!!! This story was not what I was expecting and sure terrifying. I am so glad that she is safe now. It makes me glad to know that my girl is also a spitfire. I agree with everyone else, food is great and do is another person to talk to and just sit with you.

The Grahams said...

Scray to have that situation so close to home, you must have been in unbelief when you found out. I'm so glad Red was a fighter. You'll have to let me know how she does in the next little while. Sorry about the casserole, I hope she didn't make you feel to bad. I know your cooking and it's delicious!! I mean that.

Brian and Courtni said...

Oh my gosh, that story is SO scary! What a crazy world we live in, huh? No worries about the least you did something and that is more than a lot of people. Also, you can't go wrong with fritos and ice cream (at least I don't think you can...I wouldn't have thought you could go wrong with enchiladas either...:-))

Slyck and Slim said...

What great friends you have -- I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all the comments and can only say "Amen!" That is crazy that this situation happened to someone you visit teach! So after gymnastics, we are enrolling our girls in tai kwon do. I am so glad that Red fought back like she did. And I would eat your chicken enchiladas!

Desmama said...

Wow--that is a crazy scary story. Amazing it turned out somewhat okay.

As I've tried to figure out this Compassionate Service calling, I, too, have been plagued with the thought that I'm just the casserole coordinator. I often wonder if there's more I could do rather than just arrange meals, arrange meals, arrange meals all the time.

I imagine your casserole was good--I think I'd like it. ;)

chicagosapps said...

What a scary story. Yikes.

One of the ladies I visit teach has a 13 year old boy who fell very ill with the flu, and when they took him to the hospital, his heart started failing and they found he has a congenital defect and needed a heart transplant ASAP. They waited and waited for a heart while their son was kept super sedated to not tax his heart, and in the meantime, people were bringing them food which just kept piling up and they told us to stop with the food. We all prayed fervently for them. They are recent converts (the whole family got baptized!), and their youngest is Hannah's best friend. When I was finally "allowed" to make them a dinner, I bought the ingredients with tears in my eyes, I prepared it while praying and nearly sobbing, had an interesting discussion about donating organs with my children as we made cookies for them, and drove it to their neighbor's house with my heart full of love and hope for all of them. Just an hour after I left it, we found out he had a heart! The transplant went so well and he is recovering and expected to come home in a week! I cried with joy. I don't know if they ate my food, or enjoyed it, or even know if I was the one to bring the food that day. I do know preparing it helped me feel so connected to them and focused my thoughts and prayers on them. I hope they can feel the love I baked in there, but if they can't, I understand that too.

I say bring on the casseroles.

tearese said...

ow...I always want to comfort people when something horrible happens (but never anything that horrible!) and I can never think of anything good to do. I would have been crushed to get that response, and would never have made food for anyone again. But then, I guess I'm too sensitive.