After 42 years as a nurse, Myrna Tufono earned the right to a restful retirement. But instead of kicking back, the Cupertino dynamo spent Christmas Day whipping up two special dinners, one for her own tribe and the other for a kind of extended family, brought together from near and far by shared misfortune.
There was Wilma Estes, of Ceres, whose husband of 58 years is struggling to recover at Kaiser hospital in Santa Clara from emergency bypass surgery. Also at his bedside: their son Randy, from Reno.
And there was 9-year-old Alana Alexander and her 12-year-old brother, Ethan, of Pittsburg, who spent most of Christmas Day at the same hospital, doing their best to be good as a battery-powered heart pump kept their grandmother alive.
Not the kind of Christmas kids -- or adults, for that matter -- dream of. But that's where Tufono and her fellow volunteers come in.
They dished up a deluxe Christmas dinner in a deluxe setting, giving these stressed-out families and others like them a taste of the holiday at JW House, a guesthouse on the Kaiser campus that resembles a Tahoe ski lodge with floor-to-ceiling windows and a huge fireplace.
"It may not be the best Christmas we've ever had,'' Randy Estes said. "But it's a gorgeous place, the people are friendly and they really care. There should be one of these at every hospital.''
Alana had a different perspective.
"The brownies are really good,'' she said.
JW House was
In 2008, JW House opened with four individual apartments, a communal dining room and a garden. Families are referred for stays by hospital social workers based on how far they must travel to the hospital, financial need and other factors. They can stay overnight -- like the Esteses -- or drop in during the day to take a shower, do laundry or eat a meal, like the Alexanders.
Area restaurants supply dinner every night. But Tufono steps in on holidays, commandeering the guesthouse's large kitchen and multiple volunteers to prepare a home-cooked feast.
"As a nurse, I know how desperate people can be during the holidays when someone is sick,'' Tufono said. "But they come over here, relax, eat and get some soul support.''
Tuesday's spread included two turkeys, a 13-pound rib roast, potatoes -- mashed or twice baked. Plus rice, coleslaw, tomato and cucumber salad. -- and carrot cake and brownies for dessert.
Tufono knows the comforting power of a home-cooked meal. She still remembers how every Wednesday her mom would clean out the fridge and make a big pot of soup, accompanied by her homemade bread. So when Wilma Estes mentioned that her husband was on a strict sodium-free diet, Tufono prepared a special salt-free prime rib to bring to him.
"Myrna is the best,'' said volunteer Greg Sereno, a teacher at St. Clare School in Santa Clara who knew JW. "Next to the paid staff, she's it. When she's here, we bow to her.''
Tufono shrugs off the praise. Her only complaint is JW House lacks a freezer, making her labor of love a bit more challenging.
"I love cooking, and I like to see people enjoying the food,'' she said, noting how she got plenty of practice raising three children and her nephews. "It's a hobby. You know how some people knit? I couldn't sit still long enough to do that.''
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.