“We become eternal by being held in memory’s loving arms.” Richard Wagamese
Fragrances of simmering lamb, baked desserts, and aromatic spices will ignite a memory, a sense of something familiar. She is reminded of a home she once lived in and has visited more often as her parents have aged.
As with smells, her recollections can also be triggered by a glance or words uttered. “Where is the bread,” her father asks, and she imagines her mother cursing herself for forgetting the bread in the oven.
Her mother is not here anymore. But the table is still there; its bony legs have withstood the weight placed on them over the years. They don’t make tables like that anymore, particularly in this world of disposability.
She’s had eight Christmases without her mother and her mother’s many, many platters of food. The few things she has brought in for her father for their Christmas dinner come from her father’s favourite bistro. There are many Greek restaurants in this city she grew up in. It no longer looks like the city she and her family emigrated to so many years ago.
“It’s good,” her father has said each year since her mother died. “Not like your mother’s though. That woman had special hands. She could make anything.”
“It’s better than anything we could do,” she has told him.
Her father laughs. “It’s a wonder we haven’t starved without her. Neither one of us cooks.” His eyes get slightly teary as if he is picturing her mother in the kitchen fussing over the stove or setting the Christmas table.
“Yup, you said it,” she says.
“And you never liked all that food, anyway.”
“It was just too much,” she said. “When so many had nothing.”
“It was how your mother showed us how much she loved us and the others we invited to our home. This is how we gave thanks for coming to this country. She wasn’t any different from you. She tried to save the world too. You have to understand this, my serious one. She thought she could do it one person at a time.”
Her friend from so many years ago is at the kitchen table too. “She used to feed us,” she says. “Your mother knew we didn’t have enough.”
She remembers that expression her parents exchanged all those Christmas’s ago, swallows hard to control the tears she doesn’t want her father to see.
“Where’s the bread,” she hears his insistent words again.
This time she startles awake, sits upright in her childhood bed and slowly realizes her father is gone now too.
She is here to celebrate her first Christmas without him. She’s not sure where or if she’ll find solace. That first Christmas without her mother, they packed bags for the Food Bank as her mother had done since these places came to be in the early 80s. “She gave money to the Sally Ann before that,” her father said, “every year.” So she made a donation in her mother’s name. Over dinner, they told stories about her, the things she made, and the bread she always forgot in the oven. They laughed and toasted her and the ache of losing her waned a little. They’ve celebrated her mother every year since in the same way and with it grief passed.
The hole left in her life and stomach after her father’s death this year couldn’t possibly pass. She feels the lacking every day, even as she stuffs more into her life to distract her. Nothing seems to help.
As she gets out of bed, it comes to her. She is thankful too for having had the parents she had. And what did they always tell her: show your love and gratitude, oh serious daughter of ours.
Her siblings and their friends along with her friend and others will be back this year. One last Christmas in this old house: her parents’ house. Okay, she still can’t cook. Nothing has changed there. But there are many restaurants she can order her family’s favourites. She knows the table will hold up under the weight, at least for one more year. And maybe this year, she’ll remember the bread her father could never seem to do without. Or perhaps this story of her mother’s forgetfulness will be handed down through the generations. And the retelling will bring a smile of recognition and a link to the past.
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