I baked cheese straws with Grandma. I can still see the way they crumbled, like flaky earth, between my fingers, and taste the salty cheddar on my tongue.
Some memories are immortal, unbreakable, clung onto like the last ever embrace, the last ever Spring, never relinquished nor forsaken by present concerns or future dreams. These memories, I believe, are the ones that dance on the surface, that shine like a long lost friend, before two eyelids seal, concluding their life's work at the final breath.
And so during my last moments - toes crossed these won't befall me for a long, long time to come - I hope it's Sundays with my Grandparents, as well as sublime recollections of Little A and Younger Dad, that fill the dying cells with warmth and love and reassuring familiarity, until the dark voyage takes me who knows where...
Until I was about fourteen years old - and all I cared about was boys, clothes and music - my Dad offloaded my brother and I at our Grandparent's home every Sunday afternoon, sometime, I think, between the hours of two and six thirty. I can't remember when I started going, I might have been five, all I recall is that Sundays were about Grandma and Grandad. And I longed for those afternoons with my two adored relatives.
Grandad put 'gentle' into gentleman; warm, kind, generous of his time. Grandma had a mind sharper than a lemon tree; wily, observant, precise. Never a day passed when her nails weren't painted, or her hair immaculately arranged.
Sunday afternoon's were the reserve of treasure hunts; hide and seek; clothes horse dens; pulling stubborn weeds from flowerbeds that flanked the lawn; smelling plump tomatoes in the humid greenhouse; leafing through the musty pages of copious volumes of Readers Digest and The National Geographic, piled so high in the secret cupboard, they obscured the oval window at the rear - my imagination cultivated, ripened, harvested, before enjoying pancakes soaked in butter and golden syrup in front of Bonanza and the Muppet Show.
Sometimes, Grandma and Grandad glided across their dining room floor, swirling, dancing their ballroom waltz for us. Grandad taught me his graceful one-two-three, one-two-three, while I stood atop his polished shoes. Meanwhile, Grandma's bedroom was a study in feminine mystery; a mirror, a comb and a brush aligned perfectly on the dressing table; brightly coloured lipsticks that drew irregular lines over my small puckered mouth; a wardrobe full of kitten healed shoes, and a special golden pair that dwarfed my dainty feet whilst stumbling with a silver handbag dangling inches from the floor.
And while Grandad and my brother tinkered with Meccano, Lego and Airfix models, Grandma and I got to grips with wooden spoons and pre-greased baking sheets. Our time was lovingly spent stirring the ingredients for meringues or vanilla sponges, Grandma instructing me on the correct appearance of whisked egg white peaks, on the exact stiffness of a cake batter as it dolloped from the spoon into the bowl. And we experimented, often floundering, with homemade toffee, chocolate and ice cream.
But it was making cheese straws I remember with particular fondness...
On with the pinafore aprons, mine double knotted, hands washed, then Grandma fetches the brown mixing bowl from the light blue cupboard full of orange Tupperware, stacked foil containers, and the not so secret stash of grandchild treats. Together four hands crumble the butter and flour. Cheese and water added, Grandma rolls out the pastry, while I cut strips off and twist them on the oven tray. Grandma carefully places the straws using heavily padded gloves with a bright flowery print onto the shelf of the stand alone cooker. Then the smell... that savoury smell, the smell of melting cheese, of comfort and cuddles and generational tenderness, the smell that could only spill from a grandmother's kitchen.
Grandad, sadly passed away when I was fifteen years old. The day of my wedding, Grandma was trapped - her joints crumpling - in a nursing home, unable to attend the happy day. In my heart, the wedding cake was a fitting tribute to all those years, all those afternoons spent blending, infusing, whisking, rolling. And the wedding desert, it wasn't a traditional cake, was a layered tower of sweet toothed fancies; passion fruit meringue pies, white chocolate cheese cake tarts, mini cup cakes, and crowned with one of my favourites, a vanilla sponge lavished in lemon icing.
My love of food, especially those cosseting savouries and sweets, can be traced solely to Grandma. When I bite into a buttery slice of Madeira cake or jammy almond slice or crunch on a cheesy bread stick, I always think of her. And my Grandma's culinary legacy? Well I love creating her signature dishes, Yorkshire pudding, strawberry crumble, tiffin... And in my kitchen today, Little A and I enjoy nothing more than the simple pleasures of baking banana muffins, whipping cream, and dunking fingers in smooth, melted chocolate.
In loving memory of my Grandma and Grandad.
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