Once upon a time, a lady was consulting with her pastor about her funeral. (She obviously wasn’t dead yet, or she wouldn’t be consulting, now, would she?) Anyway, she said she wanted a nice service and all, followed by a luncheon for anyone who could stay. “Oh, one more thing,” the dear lady said. “I want to be buried with a fork.” The pastor’s eyebrows went up. He’d heard plenty of strange things, but this kind of took the cake. “A fork,” he said. “Well, I suppose that can be arranged. May I ask why a fork?” The lady smiled. “At church potlucks, they always tell you to keep your fork for dessert, because the best is yet to come. So, I figure, it’s the same going to the Pearly Gates. Jesus pretty much told us, the best is yet to come.”
The story is not about keeping your fork for a casserole, but that story did trigger a slew of memories connected to casseroles. Tater Tot casserole is still a go-to when time is tight. Ground beef and onions, then frozen peas, a can of mushroom soup, topped with a layer of Tater Tots laid down in a fanciful, but packed, pattern. Or, mix quick-rice with cream of mushroom soup to the consistency of mush, and spread in the bottom of a pan. Top with chicken breasts, and maybe some frozen broccoli. Drizzle wine, or milk, if that is your preference until it puddles a bit on the surface. Cover tightly with foil and bake. Oh, heaven! I’ve served that second one for Christmas dinner and gotten a lot of oohs and aahs.
My mom often made a Seven-Layer casserole with potatoes, onions, ground beef, carrots, and a jar of home-canned tomatoes. Wait! you say, that’s only five layers. I made the same mistake. Mom informed me that the salt and pepper counted too. Voila! Seven layers. Mom would dig down and dish out great spoonfuls of the casserole. “To get the best parts, you have to make sure to plunge right to the bottom,” she’d enjoin. Mmm-mmm!
Plunging right to the bottom took me away from casseroles. Stay with me here. The mind flits here and there, and this is one of those diversions. Remember those childhood swimming lessons? Most kids don’t even want to dunk their entire head underwater, but by the time those Lifesaving classes came around, we did more than hold a nose and do a quick dip. The final exam in the pool consisted of “rescuing” the biggest guard, or else the pool manager, from the bottom of the diving well, an abyss fifteen feet deep. When I took the test, it was the 200-pound manager.
He plunged straight to the bottom, and sat there, cross-legged, waiting for one of us to pull him up. I didn’t have much time to ponder his lung capacity, and how long he could stay submerged, because I was frantically trying to get down to him. Like a baby duck, I kept bobbing back up to the surface. Finally, I released a steady stream of air to fight the buoyancy as I struggled to get down 15 feet. Of course, that meant I really didn’t have much air left to re-surface. But I did manage to grab him—inflicting a deep bruise on his arm—and drag his dead weight to the surface. I still had to get him to the poolside, and therein, practically drowned myself in the process. But we made it. And I passed the class.
Just as all the “heavy” stuff can be hidden way at the bottom of a casserole—or a diving well—a lot of the good stuff—our successes—can be hidden way down in the deep end, where we have to struggle like crazy to bring them to the surface. Along the way, maybe we feel like we’re never going to be able to surface, never going to be able to get to the meat of the casserole. But hang in there! Like the lady buried with a fork, hold onto the tools we use to get down to what we want, because the best is yet to come.