Barbara's blog: On Love and Food
Dear Mum, I made lasagne today, just the way you taught me, with lean beef and handfuls of fresh herbs. We ate them for dinner and talked about you. Son and daughter reminisced about visiting you in Italy as small children and how kind and caring you were to them. They used to rush from their beds, squealing with delight as they heard the horn of the cruising ships approaching the harbour. And although it was early (too early for us parents on holiday!) you were there with them at the window. After breakfast, they accompanied you to the market, a wonderland of sounds, smells and colours, in the already fierce morning sunshine. We talked about how you brought us together to eat around the table at dinner, to slowly savour your wonderful cooking, as the children would gleefully describe their day at the beach. We said how, for you, food transcended the mere function of providing sustenance: it nourished the soul, with its comforting and healing properties. You taught us the value of sharing food around the table and that has stayed with us and will remind us of you.
Dear Mum, I was feeling sad today, so I went to Brighton with son to start the Christmas shopping, hoping the festive lights and hustle and bustle might cheer me up. We walked around the lanes, chatted and had lunch. I thought about that time when you insisted we went to a “proper shop” to buy a gift for daughter. The proper shop required the customer to specify what she wanted and the owner to show the relevant merchandise, until a small pile of clothes had formed on the counter. On that occasion, the dresses were beautiful but expensive so I thanked the owner and said I would think about it. She was clearly put out but faked a smile. You frowned, then proceeded to compliment the owner on the beautiful things she stocked, clearly to cover your embarrassment. I found the dynamics amusing: the owner was young but had to abide to old-fashioned rules of engagement between customer and store. You were uncomfortable with the fact that I had refused to buckle under the pressure of having to make an obligatory purchase, but were secretly grateful as you didn’t want to buy anything. It was a strange, silent minuet of prescribed behaviours. These were the social constraints that I found hard to swallow when I was growing up: we were very different and during my teenage years quickly grew apart, but despite being puzzled by your insistence to comply to the status quo, and frustrated by having to tame my dreams, I was also inspired by your strength of character, discipline and mental resilience, gifts that I have treasured and that have made me who I am today.
Dear Mum, I went on a country walk with son today. I was tired but knew that he would not want to do these things with me for very long now that he is fifteen. I wondered how you juggled a full-time job, with raising a small child on your own, after dad died and without the mental health support that we are lucky to have these days. I did not appreciate your efforts then: your constant focus on having the best education for me, to secure a good job, never be reliant on others and be able to walk into any meeting room, join any conversation without ever feeling inadequate. I do now, as these are the issues we still struggle with in our society: “work like you have no family, look after the family like you have no job”. The tide is changing though, and your grandchildren will hopefully have it easier.
I spoke about you with son, who fondly remembers your kindness and generosity. As we talked and walked, the sun rays seeped through the tree canopy. I felt like some of that light and warmth had touched my soul, bringing the realisation that, although no longer with us in form, you are now a part of the cosmos and I am thankful for the legacy you have gifted us.
Barbara works for the aviation regulator and lives a stone’s throw from the South Downs with her 16 year old creative daughter, 15 year old ingenious son and supportive husband.