My mam has been admitted to hospital.
I spoke to her a couple of hours ago (Praise the mobile phone), and she had been out of bed rooting around for a switch to turn on the light above her bed so she could read the latest goings-on of the celebutardii, which she refers to as “The poor girls,” which, when you think of it, is quite sharp of her.
“You’re not well,” I said, “haven’t you got a button to push for a nurse?”
“Well, I didn’t like to bother her,” she replied. “It’s only a switch.”
“Jesus, woman,” I remonstrated, “They’re called nurses for a reason. You’ve spent your life slogging your guts out. Let someone else do the work.”
And there we are; my mum is ill. But still my mum. Still slogging.
Still reminding me that it’s almost exactly a year ago that we were all in New York.
“Of course, I don’t remember much of it,” she said; “Only, I loved dinner on that roof top, and the lovely trip around the bay. And that brilliant street fair on Broadway. And the look on your father’s face when we announced that he hadn’t missed Borders books, ‘cos it would be open til midnight. But other than that, I can’t recall a lot. ‘Twould be lovely to go again, though….”
And then we got back to the business of her being unwell, and I was assured that she’d be well. Again.
And I felt less unsure.
So, backtracking: prior to this conversation, I’d been feeling a little tense. A tad unsure of things; and so I did what my people always do when we need to let the bad go and embrace the good. And by “my people,” I mean the people who are, historically, predisposed to expecting tomorrow to be worse than today; the ones for whom untold wealth and perfect happiness is always something others have; the folks who refuse to believe – until it’s too late – that life can sometimes be actually perfect.
I did what they do, and have always done: I cooked.
I made Torte de Bergere Americaine.
You’ve never heard of it? Unsurprising, really. I made it up.
Back in March D and I were in NY to see our dear friend Whit, and her parents were also in town, and they had pre-requested us to advise them of our favourite Kansas City BBQ sauce, which they had then handed to us in vast quantities.
And I had chosen Bryants, which has a grittiness and spice lacking from some others (though I’ve since found that its absence of honey, sugar, molasses or God’s Gift to American Cuisine High Fructose Corn Syrup makes it a little thin when subjected to high heat), and which I have been using –slathered on chicken, poured onto pork chops, and, when I got the hang of it, rubbed slowly and sensuously into a couple of wonderful steaks which were then quick grilled on the garden barbecue.
And tonight, there was a few spoonsful left, which were added to the last of a beautiful bounty of Herbes de Provence which the lovely Julie had given me a long time ago (I know: they’re supposed to go ‘off,’ but you try making dried rosemary and lavender lose their scent), a pack of minced beef, two and a half onions, three carrots, a few handfuls of frozen peas, salt, pepper, passata, some leftover dolcelatte melted into the mass (not kosher, I know; so sue me) and a topping of mashed potato with grated parmesan and cheddar.
It’s Shepherds pie, made with gifts from people who gave the ingredients with love, and cooked at a time when we needed a hug.
And it was a great big hug.
And it was eaten – flicking through a Dan Brown, as the sun went autumnally golden behind next doors fence (can you tell I’ve been reading Dan Brown), and we listened to bits of Young Frankenstein, and we remembered last Autumn in New York, before the financial industry collapsed.
And then I called my mother, fearing the worst, and ended up laughing with her as she discussed my husband’s propensity for drama, justified her own semi-nocturnal treasure hunt for the Missing Light Switch (“I’m sure I’ve just switched off half the incubators and two thirds of the dialysis machines in the place, and I still can’t see what Cheryl Cole’s wearing on her feet this week!”), and avoided the future potentialities of her prognosis (“They say I have a disease,” she said, in the same tone she’d use if someone suggested she had, say, a knockoff pair of Gucci sunglasses: We don’t do cheap, vague or mundane, in my family. It’s all Drama! Explicit! And Receipts!!!)
Summer’s ending. Winter’s coming. But, between it and us, we have a potentially golden autumn, filled with new births (hello Pat), hugs scented with Barbecue and Rosemary, hope (It’s only a disease ferchrissakes), memories of golden autumns past and anticipation of great times to come.