Monday, July 19, 2010

... A Long Way From Home

This relentless rain has washed all the colour from the sky. It's July 19 and it's cold. I huddle lower in the purple chair facing the east window and think, This is the kind of weather only a British mother could love ...

My mother. We experienced lots of weather like this in Coonoor and Ooty. We would drag ourselves off to school after lunch in our anoraks and wellingtons, miserable and with the damp permeating our wool socks and blue-and-white checked school uniforms. We shivered our way through Latin declensions and pointless scientific formulae, through the dreaded art class where the poor deranged teacher was as likely to pull your hair as praise your work.

But when the bell rang at quarter to four and we were free to leave, we turned our thoughts toward home ... toward tea time ... toward our mother.

And she never failed us! On a grey, wet day like this, she would have a fire lit in the dining room fireplace and a pot of tea ready. And, as a special treat, she would make us cinnamon toast: the bread would be toasted till it was crisp but not burnt; and then the toast would be buttered until you could taste the butter but it didn't make the toast soggy; and lastly she would take a spoon and dip it into the cinnamon sugar she had blended together in a bowl and she would sprinkle it carefully, evenly, lovingly, on each piece. They would be cut in half and the plate passed around as many times as it took until our faces lost that pinched, woebegone look and we could chat cheerfully about our day. Seconds of tea were offered and hair braids were loosened and poor tender scalps massaged gently until we were warmed even more by her care than by the fire.
Today reminds me of those lonely, rainy days. My Dad is with Debs at his specialist's office. Angela Hewitt is playing Beethoven's piano concertos plaintively on the sound system. And the rain streaks down the gutters and gushes out the spout. Even the adolescent sparrows, who were born in the underlay of the car port and have abandoned their nest and summarily dismissed their parents, as only adolescents can do, are popping by with offerings - a twig here, a piece of straw there - hoping they can gain readmittance to the one safe place they still remember as home.

"Sometimes I feel like a motherless child ..." These are the kind of days that a man needs his wife. That a girl needs her mum. Mum would know what to do to make the day feel brighter; she would find a way to turn the vast empty room into a cocoon of warmth and nurturing and anticipation of the inevitable sunshine just ahead. She would make me cinnamon toast and tea and the world would seem less stark, less austere.

And so almost as if sleepwalking, I went to the kitchen and plugged in the kettle. I toasted two pieces of ancient grains bread until they were crisp but not burnt and I made a little dish of cinnamon sugar. I steeped a pot of tea, chose my favourite cup and saucer and cream pitcher, and carried it all on a silver tray to the glass-topped table by the fireplace.

As I bit into the first half-piece of toast I could almost hear her saying to me, "What's wrong, Chrissie?" and I could almost feel her fingers working at the tangles in my mind until my headache started to ease away. And I could almost tell her about this strange, heartless day that was squeezing the air from my lungs and the colour from the world. And as I sipped my tea and ate my toast, I could almost hear her telling me to go outside, telling me that the grey was just a canvas for some of the most spectacular artwork imaginable.

I wandered outside and was greeted by the enormous pot of birthday flowers that Doreen had tended only yesterday.

I glanced over at the sweetpeas that lovely Deb had nurtured from seeds into seedlings until she planted them a few Sundays ago - now they were stretching their heads defiantly upward toward the sky, bursting into a colourful song of joy.

I looked at my beautiful Schubert cherry tree, lovingly chosen and planted for me by Allan. What a solace that tree has become! Even the sparrows were taking refuge in its swaying branches. The lilac twigs that Matthew had carefully planted last year were at last coming into their own.

At the foot of the little lawn there was a surprise cluster of pale pink flowers, so delicate I could not decide if they were weeds or just an aberrant seed that had had the good sense to land on my patch of green.

Lastly, I peeked around the rock to see how my and Sister Sue's Shauna Rose was faring - after the crazy wind of last week, what blooms she had mustered had been scattered on the lawn in individual petal boats holding tear-drops of rain. But this morning, Shauna Rose was standing proud and tall, bursting with hope and promise, the miniature pansies a jeweled anklet at her feet.

And seeing all the colour and recalling all the love that had placed it there, I felt like the canvas of my life, which has been feeling stretched tight recently, was now revealing that I am not a long way from home - that this beautiful place, in fact, is my home on this particular panel of canvas; and that the Old Master is continuing to blend and apply the colours and the textures as carefully as Mum mixed the cinnamon sugar and sprinkled it on our toast so long ago.


  1. The leaves have a great insight and can tell so much. Nothing beats a wee drop of tea during times of cold and reliving the past. What a grand job you have done on your site.

  2. The pale pink flowers look like clover - whose leaves are the closest we get to shamrocks here. I think the sweet glimpse of them on that day was a smile from Mum, just for you, Karyn! Mum loves you forever!


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