On Thursday, my Gran had a stroke. Sausage was visiting her for a cup of tea at the time and went in the ambulance with her to the hospital. She says she knew it was serious because the nurses kept giving her sympathetic looks and the paramedics from the ambulance sat her down and made her a cup of tea.
That was Thursday. Now it’s what? Sunday? Gran is still there; she’s still breathing, just. But she is on her deathbed. The family has assembled at the hospital, taking it in turns to read to her and hold her hand, swinging between slightly hysterical joviality and teariness. And, well, waiting.
It is the natural order of things, of course. She is 88 and has had a long and happy life. She (Sausage and I agree) has wanted to go for a while. But I am desperately, to-my-core sad, sad, sad.
I have been mainly responding by maniacally cooking and massively over-reacting. I think motherhood has instilled me with the food-as-epicure thing and I have been seized with the impulse to cook. Like generations of women before me, I’m providing food as a comfort where none exists otherwise, and the cooking itself is comfort for me.
Yesterday I made roast parsnip and butternut squash soup to take to the hospital for my mum. Then I whipped up a batch of croutons to take in a snippy-snappy box, and grated some fresh parmesan to take too. This morning, Ziggler and I had baked and iced a sponge cake for our friend Epistle’s birthday before my mum had come to pick me up to rejoin the vigil at the hospital. Tonight was arancini. It’s as if I’ve been possessed by some 1950s American Home-making guru because usually, frankly, it’s all I can manage to boil some pasta and stir pesto into it before the screaming around my ankles gets too much for me to hack.
I’ll level with you. My gran is a terrible cook. It’s a thing of family fable. She is a brilliant baker and her scones and cakes are a wonder, but when it comes to cooking a meal she is a bit too, erm, shall we say inventive? She’ll follow a recipe and then serve up tea, saying ‘I didn’t have any (essential ingredient) so I used (something probably the same colour but wholly inappropriate) instead’. Thus were born curry snap biscuits and Brussels sprout risotto. She generally has the grace to give a little giggle before saying it these days as she knows it is a widely-used phrase in the family. So as I added Worcester sauce to the soup, not having any apple cider vinegar, I felt I was carrying on tradition.
I love baking with Ziggler, even though it’s a bit messy and the results are seldom very professional-looking. Ziggler loves stirring things and breaking eggs. My Gran really understands about how tricky I’ve found the past year because her two eldest, my mum and uncle, are the same distance apart (obviously she preferred to avoid the teeth-gnashing route and Just Get On With It but that’s my gran for you). Anyway, as Ziggler and I were baking today I felt I was channelling her, with one blonde baby at my side sieving flour and the other one playing on the rug in front of the fire (it’s true that we have neither rug nor fire and you don’t need to sieve flour these days but.. y’know). Through the generations and the ages, my female ancestors have probably baked cakes and tended their children in anxious and troubling times.
We made lemon butter cream to ice the cake and Ziggler got some lemon juice in her eye. She screamed (you would). This is where I over-reacted and ripped the top off one of the special eye-wash things in the first-aid kit, jammed her eyelids open and squirted the contents in her eye. When her screams ascended to a full blown hysterical panic I realised a wipe and a bit of a blink probably would have done. She’s all right now, though, you’ll be pleased to hear. In my defence, I am waiting for a call to say gran is gone, and it’s making me a little tense. That might be why, also, I’ve just got back from a 2-hour trip to A&E with Pickle who woke at 10 gasping and honking for air and jaggedly crying. As soon – AS SOON, I tell you – as we walked through the doors to A&E she made a complete recovery and entertained herself for the next 2 hours by singing ‘twinkle twinkle’ and getting cross because she wasn’t allowed to rampage around like she normally does. The doctor was very understanding.
So I suppose this is goodbye. Goodbye Gran, mistress of understatement, compulsive decorator of any object in your path and baker of delicious cheese scones. Goodbye infectious giggle and birthday cards in copper-plate handwriting. I carry with me the little worry-lines on the bridge of your nose, your mouth and, of course, your Wilkinson bottom (very wide indeed). Goodbye twiddling thumbs and the teacosy plonked on the teapot. I can’t depict your sum in a paragraph. We will miss you. We love you. Good bye.