Vegetables and Renewed Courage

Vegetables and Renewed Courage

Nancy Hoag


            I couldn’t remember when I’d felt so afraid! With my children grown and my granddaughters in college and moving forward in their chosen careers, my husband and I reached our retirement years feeling comfortable and prepared. Yes, there were several medical challenges that came at us with a force that, for a season, set us back. But our local doctors knew exactly what to do, and we were feeling as fit as we did back when we were considered young. Then, suddenly the news reporters, both local and national, were declaring something entirely new and dangerous was attacking. They reported that none of our medical communities were adequately prepared.  “Something called a coronavirus,” my husband said, laying our morning paper down beside his place at the kitchen table. This new virus suddenly took our country by storm, and the worst of it for us? “It’s going after the elderly,” Scotty said.

            I didn’t like to call myself “elderly.” My birth certificate made it clear that I’d recently celebrated my eightieth birthday, but I didn’t feel eighty, and I really did not see my seventy-eight-year-old spouse as an old man! We still hiked, fished, took care of our own home, mowed, trimmed, cleaned, painted, did our own shopping. In our late sixties and into our early seventies, we traveled with and lived in a thirty-seven-foot motorhome in order to work as full-time Habitat for Humanity volunteers. But now the reporters on the local news and the writers in our morning daily were saying those of us who were older were in serious danger. Our younger family members checked in on us on a daily basis. We were being told, under no uncertain circumstances, to STAY HOME! When we needed groceries or medical supplies, we were to ask friends from the church to shop for us; we could order through something called Instacart, and even Amazon would see to it that we would be fed while isolated. The restaurants closed; the theatre shut down; there was talk of a run on supermarket supplies from powdered milk to toilet paper!

            I panicked! I’d not kept our freezer or pantry full because we’d been trying for some time to move to another state where we could live near our daughter. Extra bottles, cans, and boxes would run up our bill with the moving company. But now, what if the stores ran out of what we needed?

            “Scotty!” I exclaimed, fighting back tears. “You can’t eat just anything! You have diabetes!” I wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already know, of course, but did he understand we could be in serious trouble? My husband also battled cancer, and while he was feeling not only well but healed, his oncologist admitted the cancer could return. In addition, the radiation had created another condition for which there seemed to be no permanent cure.

            So, my husband had health concerns. Concerns we’d been able to handle until this frightening news hit our local paper.

            I called a young neighbor who lived around the corner. She attended our church, and she was a nurse, so if anyone would know what to do, she would.

            “Sarah!” I exclaimed, trying not to sound afraid, but with my heart in my throat. “I’m not prepared! They’re saying I shouldn’t go out! And Scotty really can’t, because he’s…”

            “What do you need?” I heard my young neighbor gently ask in that steady, calming way that she has. “I can go buy groceries for you.”

            “No!” I exclaimed. She had a young family to care for; she’d been called back to help out at the hospital. Besides, we should be able to take care of ourselves. “I panicked when I realized we aren’t prepared, and the food I have for Scotty won’t last long, and then if we’re actually given the order not to shop…”

            “Do you like jicama?” Sarah asked, still there and still calm.

            I was nodding. “We learned to like jicama more than just about anything else while we were living in New Mexico.”

            “What about snow peas? carrots? green beans? fresh spinach? Most of this Scotty can eat, right?”

            My words wouldn’t come. Again, I nodded. All I could think of was how I wouldn’t be able to help my husband if I couldn’t shop.

            “I’m putting a few things together,” Sarah said. “They will tide you over until we hear what our local stores will be doing.”

            I wanted to say “No!” again, but I couldn’t find my voice and then, I’d no sooner hung up and started back to my kitchen when I heard another call come in.  

            “We’re leaving a couple of bags on your porch,” Sarah said. I knew the “we” would be Sarah and her two children. And as I stepped to the door and looked out the narrow window, there was Sarah, both preschoolers in tow, on their way back down our stairs.

            “Thank you!” I called to them, trying hard not to make myself sound like a terrified, eighty-year-old woman. And then, quickly placing the heavy bags on the chest beside my front door, I hurried to my front-room window and discovered three smiling faces looking back at me. Sarah, with one child on her shoulders, waved; her little boy, standing near her knees and grinning, was jumping up and down; now all three were waving, and I waved back. And then, grins still wide and Sarah’s children still jumping up and down, we were all blowing kisses. Sarah’s children were obviously delighted to help a neighbor and their mom, even though they probably didn’t fully understand our current need.

            “Let me know if you need anything else,” Sarah mouthed.

            Fighting tears, I nodded. We would be okay. The news put me in a panic, but this visit from a young mother and her two children delivered the peace—and the lovely, fresh vegetables—I needed as I worked to take in and understand what suddenly became a new and startling season. We were three states away from our own family, but we had neighbors who cared and who would help us deal with our new normal.

            “From her own kitchen,” I said, as I laid out the produce on my kitchen counter and turned to receive a hug from my husband, who also knew what I needed.

            Hugs and fresh vegetables did tide me over until I could get my bearings, understand what the experts were saying, get myself outfitted with a mask and gloves, and post on my refrigerator the special hours that our local supermarkets had decided to set aside for senior shoppers. In the meantime, others from our church delivered a forehead thermometer and more food. Friends across town called to see if there was anything they could do. Even with the additional help offered, and as I finally came to my senses and rested on God’s Word, I knew I would never forget the very first encouragement, fresh vegetables, and joy-filled waves I received from Sarah and her two precious children.


Nancy Hoag is the author of four nonfiction books, including Storms Pass! So Hang On! (Beacon Hill Press, Kansas City). In addition, she is learning to be grateful for fresh vegetables and remarkable neighbors.



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