It began with a letter, in an innocuous, light weight blue envelope.
Except it didn’t.
In fact, both paper and envelope were white. Only the ink hinted at the writer’s individuality. My correspondent used a fountain pen. The look of the dried blue ink, so clearly something that could never have issued from the mouth of a cheap Bic, added to the mystery of it all. For someone whose only venture abroad was Canada, mere minutes away, that bit of Quink was as exotic as the curry I would later eat: me, who was raised on fish sticks, Chips Ahoy, and Big Boys.
Memories always go back to food. The Christmases and Easters of my childhood are set to the smell of Mama Buna’s colac toasting under the broiler, to later be smeared with margarine – or margarine, as I pronounced it then. Even before Mom began her War on Cholesterol, she never tolerated butter in the house.
If Dad did some DIY at his mum’s, he inevitably returned with a big pan – he called it a “walla” – of sarmale, or stuffed cabbage. For some reason it always tasted better on the third or fourth day, after it was shuffled to the back of the fridge, then taken out of the cold, and reheated to a wonderful, old country taste, and smell.
Just a few blocks away, the flavours of home meant cornbread. Grandmother, Mom’s mum, couldn’t make a meal without it, or more likely Grandfather couldn’t eat unless there was some of the crumbly, yellow stuff to mop his plate with. At Christmas, Grandmother’s staple starter was a lettuce leaf, crowned with a pineapple ring, cottage cheese, and a maraschino cherry. Dessert was a “yellow cake” – a distant cousin of the British sponge – with the best coconut icing I have ever eaten.
From letters, we moved to photos, him looking serious in a cardie I later filtched from him, and still wear. I asked him to guess what I looked like, first, and recall that he was unnervingly accurate. In my picture I was smiling, and not too self-conscious, given it was taken by Dad, who had been a self-described “shutterbug” since he was hospitalised in WWII.
In contrast to my friend’s looped, handwritten letters, mine were mainly typed, and full of mistakes. He later told me that he wondered how someone who wrote and edited a newspaper could make so many typos. I used the manual I received as a present on finishing uni, and which I lugged to the offices of the “Herald” for most of the time I worked there. At some point, I stuck a sticker on it which read: “Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana”.
Time has been a right old arrow, lately: have you noticed? It appears the wages of aging are not just dodgy knees, and a tendency toward creakiness, and crankiness.
Ah, well. If time must behave like an arrow, at least I’m spending those increasingly brief days with you.
PS: apologies for any typos.