Saturday, August 05, 2006

20 years ago

Today, it turns out, became a different kind of day. It was meant to be a day for taking pictures of finished objects (I know, I'm as shocked as anyone) and of yarny gifts.

Instead, it became a day of soft summer memories, and things long past. I love peas, beans, food, that if you are lucky, can be picked straight from the ground, or the vine, the dirt brushed off, a sugar sweet explosion when you squeeze a fresh pea to popping between tongue and palate, that juicy crystal crunch of mange tout, the splitting open of a pod, and picking a broad bean out of its cradle of iced white fur. But it seems I love beans and peas more because the very action of taking a bowl and a bag of pods outside, to sit and shell, takes me back to my childhood. For somehow, as much as it was a chore, it was also a treat to sit outside, at the warped wooden table, on the warped wooden bench, and help make dinner. There was always the fight over who got the bean stringer first, and then the call for a bandage, as a tiny childish finger would over-enthusiastically bump up against the little blades. The competitions over who could shell the fastest, the most, who could find the fullest pod, or the one which promised so much but was empty. There would be other food to prep - tomatoes to be sliced, potato salad to be mixed, meat to be marinaded (and yes, of course the men would man the fire, what do you expect), and after there would be the coin toss, to see who had to dash barefoot across the gravel to the cold dark garage to get the ice cream, which, if we were lucky, would go with the picked that morning made today blackberry and apple crumble.

And it seems that podded peas and beans are among the last of the truly seasonal foods, foods so intrinsically linked to time and place, and memory. And it seems it took me a while to realise why I love them so. But today I remembered. Today I remembered those summers, those golden moments. And today I remembered that my mother died 20 years ago, today.

And as I sat outside, with a bag of pods, a bowl filling with fresh, fresh peas, I thought about all the things she had never seen. How she never saw either of the women my brothers married. How she never saw the first 3 in the Star Wars sextet (and I remembered how she used me as an excuse to go and see the last three, which came out before the first three). How she never saw me leave home. How she never saw Schwazenegger become a politician - what would she have made of her home state? - though she did go and see him in 'Pumping Iron' (and I remembered how she and Dad made a deal over that; she could see over-large oiled up muscles, if he could see 'Goodbye, Emmanuelle'). How she never saw her grandchildren. How she never saw a reality TV show. How she never saw my god-children. How she never saw Sylvie Guillem dance at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (and I remembered how she used to call school, tell them I was sick, and take me to dress rehearsals there when I was little). How she never saw me graduate college. How she never saw me cook a meal for her in my own home (and I remembered hunting through London with her, looking for that elusive fresh garlic, or bottle of olive oil, as we walked back from the ballet, through 1970s Soho, delighting in the contradictions that the day brought). How she never, how she never, how she never. And today it is 20 years of how she never.

And it isn't that I miss her, for of course I do, but on a day like today, which came flooding through with remembrances, her absence is not so strong. And any threatening tears are chased away with a smile. Because I see her presence in the memories that come with shelling a peck of peas. Because I see her presence in the gift she gave me, to remember those moments, of sitting side by side, just being, while we would shell a peck of peas.