By Ginna Parsons
TUPELO – Jean Robinson suffers from pancreatic and liver cancer.
But she doesn’t let that get in the way of her being a caregiver for two important men in her life.
Her husband of 58 years, Frank, has Alzheimer’s, and her brother, the Rev. Tim Loden, has Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The three of them live together in Tupelo.
To take her mind off her troubles, Robinson gets in the kitchen,
“Cooking is really therapy for me,” the 76-year-old said. “I made about eight casseroles for Thanksgiving – not just for the people eating, but enough for the kids to have some to take home with them. They all had enough to take home, so that thrilled me.”
Robinson, who graduated from Tupelo High School in 1955, said she learned to cook when she was 9 or 10 years old.
“Mother had a boarding house – she rented rooms to working men who didn’t have their wives with them. Me and my sister cooked for them with nobody to supervise us. We had to get up and get our breakfast and their breakfast and get to school on time. We just did it – took on responsibility at an early age.”
She and Frank wed the summer after she graduated.
“When I married I could cook just about anything you would want except for fancy stuff,” she said.
The couple moved to California, where his parents lived. They came home to Tupelo every year to visit and almost moved back once, but ended up staying in California for 15 years.
They finally made their way home to Tupelo in the mid-1970s. She worked at Penney’s for almost 25 years and she also worked part-time at Kroger. She’s been retired for 10 years.
Now, she fills her days and nights taking care of her two charges.
“I cook every day because my brother and my husband are both big eaters,” she said. “Our big meal is in the middle of the day and we eat light at supper.”
One day last week, they enjoyed chicken spaghetti, green beans, corn and a salad. The men also like it when she prepares kielbasa sausage with barbecue sauce, cabbage slaw, pan-fried potatoes and asparagus.
“I like to try new recipes,” she said. “I’m always open to new recipes, when I have the time to really look at them. It thrills me to make something good that somebody wants to eat. It thrills me to cook and see people enjoy what they eat.”
Robinson doesn’t mind sharing tips she’s learned along the way. For instance, she folds four beaten egg whites into her chicken and dressing.
“It makes it fluffy, not packy at all,” she said.
She also advises putting a pinch of baking powder into icing that’s made with confectioner’s sugar.
“It won’t get dry and crackly,” she said.
When it comes to trying new recipes, Robinson said, sometimes you just have to use your head.
“Sometimes I’ll try to figure out a recipe and I make it too hard,” she said. “I just say to myself, ‘Jean, you’re not dumb. You can figure this out.’ And I always do.”
Do you know a good cook? Send your nominations to Ginna Parsons, Cook of the Week, P.O. Box 909, Tupelo, MS 38802. Or you can fax them to (662) 842-2233 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.