'It's Sunday again,' John thought. 'It's roast day.'
It was the one day a week where he was welcomed into the main house, that had once been his. It was now occupied by his son, daughter in law and their two daughters. It had been decided that rather than putting Granddad into an Aged Care Home, the family would move in to the main house 'to help him out' and he would vacate to the granny flat to 'have his own space', which admittedly in some ways, he was quite thankful for, because he actually preferred his own company these days, now that Margaret had passed away. He could spend his time reminiscing about sunnier days in peace and quiet.
“Margaret: so vibrant, always interested, always curious about things and people, such a passionate painter and gardener, kind, caring, a heart of gold, and I’ve never known anyone with such vim and vigour, such a zest for life.” That was how John had described her in his speech at their 50th Wedding anniversary and again 6 weeks later at her funeral.
He missed her. It had just been the two of them together in the house for many years and it was strange to have to adapt to being without her for the remainder of his golden years. He tried to be thankful for the time they had had together by telling himself that not many marriages last for 50 years, and not many are very happy ones either.
Friends would often ask John “What’s your secret? Why are you both so happily married after all this time?
And John would always answer “We cook together.”
Dinnertime was special for John and Margaret. They’d done an “Indian Cuisine’ cooking course early on in their retirement; the truth be told, neither of them was fond of spicy food really, they’d just wanted some reassurance that life without work did not mean life without purpose, and even though they never continued on with the Indian recipes they had learnt, they did have a ritual for preparing and cooking dinner together, and then eating together, of course. Then they would do the dishes together. They were constantly inspired to try new dishes. They put all their new recipes in their hard covered recipe book.
‘Where is that recipe book?’ he muttered to himself, ‘It’s usually on the book shelf. Hmm, must’ve mislaid it,”
It was all about trial and error. Some of the creations that had made it into the recipe book had been disastrous the first time they’d tried to cook them and they had laughed, sometimes quite hysterically, as they quickly put together baked beans on toast to replace the hard, soggy or burnt produce. He can remember her laughter. They were always laughing back then.
But those days were over now. When the family first moved in, he had tried to reignite these dinnertime rituals to include them in the fun of cooking together but he seemed to just get in the way, because the knives, forks and cups were no longer where they should have been. The girls saw preparing dinner as a chore and moaned about having to be forced to do all this work.
“Granddad’s making us do all the work.” Letitia would screech, always in earshot of her mother who would over protectively say; “It’s OK, you don’t have to do it, if you don’t want to.”
Tabitha was worse, she would refuse to eat anything Granddad cooked, “cause he’s smelly.”
So, he knew better now than to try and share his love for cooking with the family, he would wait to called.
“Grandaad! It’s luunchtiime!” called Letitia, well, he thought it was Letitia. He found it difficult to tell the girls’ voices apart; they were so shrill. He entered the dining room and sat himself down as a guest in a restaurant would.
Letitia was setting the table with the forks that had been forgotten, and Tabitha was still watching TV.
Jeff came and sat at the dining table, he acknowledged John with a casual “Hi Dad,” then turned to Letitia “Turn off the TV.”
“I said, Turn off the TV. Now!” “Letitia!”
She did finally turn off the TV and joined the rest of the family at the table.
“What a lot of effort you’ve gone to, Joanne, thank you.” John said to his daughter in law, as she brought the last of the plates and sat down in her spot. She didn’t reply but this was not unusual. She often didn’t respond.
As John stared at the meal, he could only think ‘loveless’. The meal had no love or care gone into it. They’d taken to buying a cooked chook from the supermarket and the roast vegetables were cooked and roasted hurriedly, hard. Dinnertime felt like a duty for the whole of the family and no-one wanted to be there. It was like they had invisible shackles on their ankles that only released their grip once the family had eaten everything on their plate. Silence. No-one spoke at the table. They just ate. And they ate quickly.
John took the plates to the bench after dinner, like he always did. He didn’t ask if he could help with the washing up, because his offers were always refused.
“We’ve got a dishwasher, now,”
So, another weekly dinner with the family was over, almost as soon as it had started. He was on the brink of saying goodbye as he usually did, until Letitia shrieked, “No! Go and sit back down. We’ve got dessert today.”
John was a bit taken aback and did as he was told by returning to the table.
Letitia and Tabitha ceremoniously entered with what looked like a jelly and ice-cream mess.
“How spectacularly wonderful!” John cried. He could not hold in his excitement. “Me and your grandmother used to make something quite similar, you know.”
“Yes, we remember. She made it for us once when we came to visit.” Joanne said. “The girls wanted to surprise you, so we found this in your recipe book.” and she carefully handed the book back to him.
“Ah, that’s where it got to.” John smiled, as he took another spoonful of the jelly and ice-cream mess.