Tom pushed open the double doors to Oakdale Rest Home and waved at Carole, the receptionist. It was always a treat to see her, as you would never know what to expect. All the residents loved her, and she was a cheery part of their lives. This week her hair was cut short and spiky and was magenta pink. She wore a lilac nylon smock with her name tag, ‘Carole’ pinned to her chest. A bright yellow buttercup had been pushed through the back of the pin and its now wilted petals drooped over the oak emblem that was embroidered on the pocket below.
“Morning Tom. Jim will be pleased to see you today. He’s been waiting for you all morning and been out twice to see if you’d arrived yet. He told me to tell you to go straight to his room, number 24, and he’ll be waiting for you there.”
“Thanks, Carole. I was a bit later getting away this morning, then had to go to three supermarkets to find Pop’s supplies.”
Carole rolled her eyes.“One of those days, eh? No worries. He will be more than pleased to see you.”
Tom made his way down the slim corridor that had doors on both sides. He pressed himself against the wall as an elderly resident shuffled on her walker towards the natural light that shone from the recreation room down the corridor. Tom wished Pop would join in a bit more with the activities, but he seemed to like his own company, a good book, and the daily paper.
Pop had been in Oakdale for two years now since GG had died. He missed her so much, although would never admit it to anyone. Pop was well known for keeping things close to his chest.
Tom knocked on the pale green door and heard Pop cough and shuffle across the room to open it. Pop’s face lit up to see Tom and he held out his callused birthday phand to shake it.
“Come in, son.”
Pop motioned his hand for Tom to enter and pointed to the elegant brocade chair that had been part of his and GG’s home for over 50 years. The blind over the small window was partially open letting in a stream of light that bounced off a black and white photo of an incredibly young GG.
‘I’ve set the table for us son, so hope you remembered to get some ham and some fresh bread like I asked you?”
Tom looked across at the small table set with two bread plates, two knives, a jar of apricot jam, and a glass butter dish smeared with yellowing butter.
“I did, Pop. I went to three supermarkets but couldn’t find the bread you prefer. We will have to make do with this one today, and he pulled a plastic-wrapped sliced loaf from the shopping bag. I found your peppermints, though.”
Pop nodded and pointed for Tom to sit down at the small three-legged vinyl stool.
“I’ll put the kettle on, then.”
Tom had been visiting Pop once a month since he’d moved into Oakdale after GG’s death. He had been finding it more difficult to care for himself and the big old empty farmhouse that sat in the depths of rugged hills in Central Otago, in the deep south of New Zealand. It held too many memories for him without GG. He was stubborn, but finally, after a lot of coaxing, he finally agreed to move into Oakdale.
Tom enjoyed Pop’s company and all his stories of his own youth, as well as stories of the war years. He knew Pop looked forward to his visits and made sure that he was there to share lunch with Pop.
The family often commented on how Tom resembled Pop in his younger years, as they had shared the same dark hair, the sharp nose, and chiseled dimpled chin.
The kettle gave a high-pitched whistle as it began to boil furiously; the steam bouncing off the cupboard above it. Tom jumped up to help Pop as his hand trembled under its weight.
“Here let me do that for you, Pop.”
Pop let Tom take over and he shuffled over to take his place at the table.”
Tom poured the boiling water over the granulated coffee and put two teaspoons of sugar into each cup and stirred them furiously. Tom placed the brown mugs on the table, then opened the plastic bread bag taking out two pieces of white bread each for himself and Pop.
Pop picked up his knife and scraped a large lump of soft butter. Slowly and carefully, he buttered to the edge of each crust and into each corner. He picked a piece of thinly shaved ham from the deli paper wrapping and carefully pulled its sides to stretch it across the buttered bread.
Pop pulled up his gaze to look at Tom, his eyelids drooping.
“In my day, you’d never get fresh bread wrapped in plastic like you do today. They used to wrap it in wax paper, which kept it nice and fresh. That’s as true as the ground I walk on, son. No wonder people have problems with their guts nowadays.
Look at this, it’s like cardboard. You don’t know what fresh bread is, my lad. Put butter on it and it crumbles, and the edges burn faster than paper when it's toasted.
Your great, great grandmother, she was from England, a pioneer, you know. She used to ground the wheat with a steel hand-mill and knead the dough with her bare hands. She’d bake it in an open oven, and boy, you’ve never tasted anything like it. Fresh butter used to drip down our chins; slavered in homemade strawberry jam. It was nothing for us kids to eat two loaves in one sitting, if we behaved ourselves, of course. We mostly did at grandma’s, as a treat of baked bread was worth keeping your mouth shut and your hands in your pockets. It’s the smell; there’s nothing like it to get the juices flowing, you know. Sometimes grandma would send us home with a big chunky crisp loaf so we could have a sandwich the next day. We had to eat brown bread, mind, as white bread was for them with money in them days, you know.
I used to like those barracootas and big round scone loaves, but you don’t hear of them anymore. Not that you’d know what they are, boy. We didn’t have much during the war either. Every single last crumb was a luxury back then and we’d even fight the birds for it if we had to.”
Pop looked back down at the food in front of him and placed another buttered slice on top of the other. He pressed his palm on top of the sandwich and squashed it into the plate.
“Now where were we, son? You’d better sit yourself down.”