The Search for Delicious

Today’s post title is actually the title of a 1969 young adult novel by Natalie Babbitt.  In The Search for Delicious, the Prime Minister of the land wishes to complete a large scale project, the writing of a dictionary, but gets stuck on defining the word “delicious.”  The King declares delicious to be apples; the queen, Christmas pudding.  An army General nominates beer.

With no easy consensus in sight, the King sends the Prime Minister’s 12-year-old special assistant, Gaylen, out into the country to poll the citizens and then return with best definition of the land.  The King decides that the food or drink garnering the most votes after results are tallied will stand as the dictionary’s definition.

Gaylen quickly learns that the task is almost impossible: no one in the country agrees and worse, friends and neighbors ridicule each other’s choices while championing their own.  Before long, civil war threatens to break out.  Such unrest leaves the King vulnerable to an uprising and sure enough, an evil opponent attempts a takeover, damming up the country’s fresh water spring to further alienate the people from their leader.

After several plot twists and turns, Gaylen is able to save the day together with Ardis the Mermaid, guardian of the spring.  When at last the water begins to flow again, everyone drinks thirstily, proclaiming the cool spring water “Delicious…Yes, yes, delicious” in between sips.

The Prime Minister finally has his definition, one that – after all the infighting and water deprivation – everyone agrees upon:  “Delicious is a drink of cool water when you’re very, very thirsty.”

Natalie Babbitt’s story has been on my mind all week as I have sat by my mother’s bed in the nursing home.  My sister called a week ago Sunday to tell me that my mother had begun a serious decline.  We expect she will not live much longer.  She ate her last solid food last Monday, when my sister spoonfed her a small hot fudge sundae from Friendly’s.  Sundaes could always tempt my mother’s appetite, even when she claimed to have little or no interest in food, and the coffee ice cream worked its magic that one last time.  “Good,” she said after the last spoonful.

Since Tuesday, she has been able to take only water by mouth.

The days of the last week have been good ones.  Sad, but good.  When not resting or sleeping, my mother has been able to speak a little, responding to her children and grandchildren as we visit, to all the hospice workers and the many nursing home staff members, too, who have come to care so deeply for her.  She has left nothing unsaid to anyone – I’m comfortable, I’m happy, I love you – and kept her patience even as we ask her to repeat her whispers so that we may understand.

The patience wavered a bit on Saturday when she rejected the drink she asked for because the water in the cup was tepid.  “I’ll leave this place when I have a drink of really cold water,” she said, practically loud, and very clear.  Since then Joan has kept ice cubes in the water.  After one last drink late yesterday afternoon, Joan asked how the water tasted.  “How was that, Mum?  Good?”

My mother answered, “Delicious.”

I bought 3 pints of ice cream and 1 pint of sorbet on my way home from the nursing home yesterday.  I also picked up a can of Redi Whip, a jar of maraschino cherries, and some Brigham’s hot fudge.  After supper, we assembled and then ate sundaes in honor of my mother.

In lieu of a recipe this week, I urge all the other ice cream lovers out there to do the same, and make a sundae. Of course you can whip your own cream and make your own hot fudge.  You can churn your own ice cream.  You can even go out to your favorite ice cream parlor and buy a sundae that someone else has made for you.  What matters is that you give yourselves a treat.  Eat something good.

You’ll be glad you did.

©2011  Jane A. Ward