Get The Dessert

by Will Barnack // January - February - March 2024

This January marks one year since Mom passed. My mother, Theresa, was an incredible woman. I don’t even know if incredible is a word appropriate enough to describe her. She was the type of mom who always made everyone feel at home. Sweet, soft-spoken, and generous. I can still hear her voice, calling out for me. I miss seeing the look in her eyes as she would say hello to my son upon the first moments of a visit. She was so happy to be a Nana. Mom was proud of her children and grandchildren. I don’t know if I ever got the chance to say how proud of her I was. I haven’t talked about Mom enough since her passing. I am unsure if that is a common part of grief, but it is important to carry on the memory of our loved ones.

Mom had a tough life from the start. She was severely burned as a toddler, when a pot of boiling water tipped over on her chest, resulting in deep scarring she carried with her throughout her whole life. Still, she pressed on. Mom also had to wear hearing aids from a very young age, as she was virtually deaf without them. Still, she pressed on. She was a victim of multiple car accidents that left her back and body in disarray, even causing her to retire early. Still, she pressed on.

Strength, resiliency, and determination are only a few of the many adjectives to describe Theresa Barnack. The best attribute of Mom, though, was her heart. She had room for everyone, and did everything she could to help people, consistently showing up, not only for her family, but for others as well. Neighbors, random people she met through teaching or just striking up conversations while running errands, friends of friends, it didn’t matter ... if Mom could find a way to help someone, she did. She led by example. Both of my parents did. And I see the impact it had on my siblings and I, as we navigate our way through this world now, without the comfort of knowing that Mom is just a phone call away. We can’t text her to check in and see how her day was. We can’t video chat with her to hear about the updates in her day-to-day life. Losing her left an immeasurable hole for the ones who were lucky enough to know her.

Mom was diagnosed with ALS in June of 2022. Just over six months later, she was gone. In the blink of an eye, she was taken from us. She never got the chance to see her precious grandchildren grow up and become young adults. She never got the chance to spend her golden years with my father, who had been with her for 49 years. She never got the chance to live the rest of her life. Life is short.

As the deadline for this article was approaching, another mom and friend who is near and dear to my heart passed away. Her name is Renee Turner and she was 55 years young. Renee was diagnosed with colon cancer five years ago. This crushing blow leaves behind three children, three grandchildren, and a wake of family and friends who got to experience the utmost pleasure in knowing her.

A lifelong resident of North Carolina, Renee became a mother at a young age. Spending her early years as a stay-at-home mom, Renee had to navigate raising a child and keeping a household in order. Her resiliency carried her through the hard times, and eventually she decided to start a career and became a successful supervisor for the Department of Motor Vehicles. However, the most rewarding job she had was that of a mother. The proof is in the pudding – her children. Renee raised three intelligent, strong, kind, hard-working children. She led by example, just like my parents. Renee poured her love and strength into her kids without reservation.

She always put everyone else first. “Did you eat? Did you take your medicine? Have you talked with your therapist?” Renee’s selflessness stood the test of time. That is one common theme when I hear stories about her. I wish I had the chance to know her longer, but I will have to settle for the reminiscent recollections. Even in the short time knowing Renee, I got to see her tenacity and her undying love for her children and grandchildren, all while maintaining her humor.

Watching her through her final weeks made me think about my own mother. A lot. These two incredibly strong women are an inspiration to all who have known them.

In closing, I will leave a quote from a tribute to Renee by her daughter: “Today’s now, then, you would’ve still selflessly chosen to let time carry on, despite this hard season. You would say, ‘We are not to miss out on life’s best moments to avoid life’s lowest ones.’”

The recipe I am sharing today is from Renee herself – her legendary banana pudding. This treat has been known to steal potluck tables across Johnston County, and beyond. The trick is in the pudding, French Vanilla, NOT banana.

While I know this article is a detour from my regular, more light-hearted anecdotes and stories, I want to take this opportunity to remind you all that, as I said before, life is short – so get the dessert.

Banana Pudding

Best if made the night before eating

– 6-8 bananas (semi-ripe)
– 16 ounce tub of Cool Whip
– 5.1 ounce French Vanilla instant pudding
– 11 ounce box of Nilla Wafers

Make the pudding and fold in three-quarters of the Cool Whip, adding more for thicker consistency, less for thinner. The remaining quarter of the Cool Whip, you can eat or save for future use. Although calories don’t count when you are baking, so I say eat it. Slice bananas. In your dish, spread a thin layer of pudding on the bottom for the bananas to sit on. Then, you will have three layers, each consisting of bananas, pudding, Nilla wafers (with the final layers of cookies crushed and sprinkled on top).

Will Barnack

General manager of The Butcher's Market – Heritage.