I’m not really very good at this living alone business. Not on a practical level anyway. I have no problem wielding a screwdriver or drill, brandishing a paintbrush or whizzing around with the lawnmower. The house is clean and tidy, apart from when the dog has emptied her toy box and wrestled the cushions to the ground. Or killed the rug. It falls apart at the supermarket.
I am a good cook. I love baking. I can whip up a meal for ten with no qualms, a family lunch or a classy dinner. So why, when I went to the cupboard tonight was it bare, again?
I’d done the supermarket run this morning, bought food for the dog, collected the ingredients and cooked dinner for my son and friends. Yet me? No.
I forget, you see. It’s no fun cooking just for myself.
The only thing left in the cupboard tonight was a tin of rice pudding. And that made me smile with fond memory.
When I was a very little girl I remember my grandmother telling me that cold rice pudding was an infallible cure for a broken heart. I cannot remember why my heart was broken at that early age, but it obviously was, because she served me a bowl of the stuff. It made me giggle. So as a cure it was, at that point in time, pretty effective.
It had to be the tinned version, of course. Real rice pudding, baked with cream and butter and freshly grated nutmeg was serious and the thought takes me back a further generation to my great grandparents’ home, with the square, Deco crockery painted with daffodils. As an even littler girl I had to clear my plate enough to see those daffodils… which was one way of getting a child to eat her greens.
Memories of food, the smells and tastes that come back, visual memories of scenes and rooms, tiny details almost forgotten, intricately linked with those moments in time shared with loved ones. Remembering the daffodil plates I can see my great grandfather sitting opposite, his hair white as snow, cheeks traced with tiny spider veins. Behind me is grandma’s treadle sewing machine with the drawers stuffed with treasures and the brass inkstand shaped like one of the setters.
Most of the small room was taken up with the great carved mahogany dresser with grandad’s treasures from India. Opposite was the big, black-leaded Yorkist range with the bread oven, where the fire burned always and sometimes we made toast in front of the flames or watched strange landscapes in the embers of the coals. And always there were the three red setters, Bonnie, Rory and Meg and great grandma, seated in her chair in the corner with her beautiful long hair bound around her head in a coronet of plaits.
They taught me to cook. All of them, one after another. A simple, homely thread of loving that even now can take me back to their hearths and homes. I was luckier than many and remember most of my great grandparents. There were photographs of five generations together. The threads of learning went back in time for me in a very vivid way.
So the child that grew learned much first hand that in many families she would have missed. I sat at my great grandmother’s knee as she told me of her own childhood in the 1800’s and of her courtship with her husband to be. And she taught me to pray. Not the written prayers we learned in school, but as she did. Simply and from the heart.
Until her death in her very late nineties, she chatted with her God every night, shared the day’s joys with Him, because, she said, they were His and He should know how glad they made her. She took Him her sorrows and fears and laid them in His lap. She taught me never to ask for anything for myself because He knew best and would give what was needed. But to ask instead for blessings on everyone else.
Her relationship with God was a very personal one. She spoke to Him like a friend and that memory stayed with me. My own journey has been convoluted perhaps, my image of Divinity has shifted somewhat from that childhood vision, but the simplicity of those prayers remained. So did something she told me when I asked her where God lived. She smiled at me very gently and said, ‘In your heart.’
Smiling at that memory, it seems the cold rice pudding has worked magic again tonight.