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Flavor sometimes is the best medicine

The Food Dude shares a personal story about the healing power of flavor in the fight to remain brave in the face of a finite existence.
by Dave Cathey Modified: January 7, 2014 at 2:52 pm •  Published: January 8, 2014

The best medicine often doesn't require a prescription.

Over the past three months I've had to familiarize myself with a myriad of multisyllabic words plastered on various pill bottles, pouches and vials while trying to assist my mother as the cancer she fought off years ago rears its filthy face for one last battle our family has been forced to accept that it will win.

As I spent last week with her, administering medication four times daily plus discretionary dosages in between, an ice-cold Dr Pepper mixed with peanuts did as much for her well-being as anything she ingested while I was home.

Pleasures come few and far between for Lila Cathey, who grew up in McAdoo, a speck of dust that barely managed not to blow away on the West Texas plains. Death lurks nearer than ever, and she knows it. One night as I sat with her, she told me she wasn't afraid to die.

“I just can't stop thinking about what's going to be on the other side.”

Despite a lifetime committed to faith and service to Christianity, her proximity to death reduces my mother to a little girl speeding through the myriad of wonder of what might be gift-wrapped under a Christmas tree.

Death doesn't scare her, but guessing exactly what lies on the other side has taken her imagination hostage. Television is little more than noise that lights the room after sundown. Phone calls are most often a reminder of how seniors are the primary target of predatory phone solicitors. Those who ring the doorbell are almost certainly delivering a prescription.

Her sense of taste is the only one she trusts for respite. When she eats now, she clings to the flavor. When I got home last week, the first thing she asked me was if I would make “that squash and corn” dish I'd made for her back in the fall. She was talking about calabacitas, which consists of squash, onions and a little corn sauteed in butter. I told her of course, and that I was glad she liked it.

“Taste is the only thing that makes me feel,” she told me through the consternation of words coming to her much harder than normal.

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by Dave Cathey
Food Editor
The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene.
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