February 18, 2010 § Leave a comment
My mother just left a message for me asking me to say a few words about my grandmother at her 90th birthday.
90. Hmm. I discovered the rich human being that was my grandmama later in life. In my childhood and early adolescence she was always just a conduit for the fabulous food I got to inhale whenever my mother took my brother and I on the long drive to her house all those years ago.
She used to poach a chicken in oil and seasoning in a mysterious process I’ve never seen duplicated- no one’s chook (aussie term) has tasted quite the same. She might do some beans, cooked to within an inch of their life, with some rice that didn’t have the right to be as tasty as it was, given that very little seemed to have been added to it.
Her salad dressing was a marvel. Olive oil, a little lemon, salt. Dee licious. Yet try making it yourself. Impossible. Too much oil. Too little lemon. Oversalted. My grandmother, Aimee to her friends, had the touch. Then it was vanilla ice cream, about four bowls of it and a date with the TV- with headphones! The television was right by the dinner table, you see, so grandmama had invested in a set of headphones for me so I could take in whatever rubbish happened to be on at the time (4 channels to choose from back then- really 3, because one of them was a PBS-style network, not at all to a 9 year-old’s taste) while everyone else nattered away.
Sometimes we’d play rummy with these mah jong-looking tiles. All of this would unfold beneath the placid gaze of my grandfather, a man with a strange predilection for having a towel draped over his shoulders. He was also the first man I ever saw who cut the corn off of his cob before he ate it. Papa, as we called him, also barely spoke a word to us in the twenty five years or so that my brother and I knew him. Because he couldn’t. He’d never bothered to learn to speak English. A great way to avoid conversation, really. The most emoting I ever saw him do was when someone would slip on a banana peel on the TV, or some such piece of hackneyed slapstick. Then he’d be rolling, the shoulders (with the towel on them), heaving up and down, little squeaks of delight emanating through his corn-pocked teeth. That and the pretty ladies would always get a reaction from him. At this point I need to ask a delicate and disturbing question: did Papa make love with that towel on his back? I guess it could come in handy. Alright, enough of that; we’re getting into a grey area here.
My grandmother is 90. She has dementia. For her right now, that means forgetting what happened 10 minutes ago, and not quite keeping up with the rest of us. I’m sure at this moment Grandmama, wherever she is, has little memory of the two little red-headed boys who used to frequent her quaint little home on the northern beaches of Sydney a couple of decades ago. But get in front of her and the eyes light up. Her heart remembers, and it seems as if the bridge to all those memories is briefly rebuilt. In those moments, she’s still well and truly alive and kicking. I just have to accept I’m not getting my chicken.