Today I write with a sad heart. My lovely beautiful Mum became very suddenly and unexpectedly unwell almost two weeks ago and a few days ago, with my darling Dad and close friends by her side she was called home peacefully in her sleep by our heavenly Father.
We are all devastated, grieving and still a little in shock. But in the same breath there are so many things that I’m thankful for. I’m thankful that we all got to spend time with Mum during her illness, and that the care she (and we) received from the hospital was exemplary; so many staff members going above and beyond the call of duty. I owe them more cake than I could ever hope to bake and deliver.
But that’s just the last few days. I’m thankful for 32 years of hugs and jokes (some funnier than others!). I’m thankful for the late night phone calls, the drop everything and come visits when I really needed my Mum, and the snippets of her childhood and teenage years she perhaps didn’t always mean to divulge over a long glass of something cool and icy.
It’s Mum who taught me to make bread, to pull together a roast lunch, and to bake cake, although the latter may have had an element of self interest after years of trying to concoct creations featured on the pages of the Australian Women’s Weekly Birthday Cakes booklet which Zee and I studied asiduously in the run up to each birthday (notable hit – the Maypole cake for what I think was my 5th birthday; family legend – the football pitch cake for Zee when she invented astroturf pitches long before they caught on in the Premier League when Dad, sent on an emergency run to the cook shop for green food colouring, returned with spearmint).
In fact, once Zee and I knew how to bake, we only merited cake for really special occasions. On the other hand, my H’s apparant innocence in the face of an oven seemed to merit him special treatment; chocolate cake. Arriving on a trip to Oxford to visit me, I’d get a big hug, but from the depths of her basket would appear a little foil wrapped parcel handed over lovingly to my very grateful then-boyfriend. Happily, he shared.
It’s Mum who taught me the joy of creating things; teaching us to sew, to cross stitch, and helped with our knitting (that would be by knitting the back and sleeves of a jumper I’d started but run out of steam on aged about 12. It was the early 90’s, happily no photo evidence survives). She turned a blind eye to the scraps from our summer dresses mysteriously disappearing while she sewed and reappearing later as little dolly outfits, complete with a little lace or bias binding also purloined from her stash, and infamously forgave (but never forgot) the occasion on which her two-year old eldest daughter decided, on the night before her baby sister’s christening, that the dress which Mum had so painstakingly made for the occasion (and as a mother of an almost two year old myself I give her serious kudos for even attempting that one) was just lacking a little something, and added a series of inch long snips at two inch intervals all the way around the hem. It’s a good job the fashion was for below the knee hems at the time.
It was the start of a life full of handmade, and as my stash(es) outgrew hers, she would sit in the comfy chair in my sewing room and we’d look through my books, and yarn and fabric and just play. If a few of my scraps made it into her latest projects it seems only appropriate after the ‘borrowing’ of my youth.
She never stopped making things, I think it runs in our blood, but was more than happy to place subtle hints for handmade birthdays and Christmas, and a more enthusiastic recipient you couldn’t hope to find. An Ishbel shawl, knit up for her birthday in 2010, a few weeks after she borrowed and loved mine during a maternity clothes shopping spree in Bath when I was first expecting Kitty, a drawful of fluffy handknit socks, a Christmas tree skirt wizzed up at super secret top speed, hats, scarves and most recently the riotously colourful quilt I made for her birthday. If her love language is cake, mine is clearly yarn and fabric.
Mum once told me that the most compelling reason why she should let me loose in her kitchen was my chemistry A-level. I think I’d asked to make a lasagne. Whilst ably demonstrating that she had never even peeked through the windows of my chem lab, or she wouldn’t have let me nearer than the lounge, it sums up her attitude to life; “Try it; what’s the worst that could happen?”, or to quote Joyce Grenfell (as she loved to do), “Go for it GaGa”.
I promise I will.