Last night, waiting for a take-away pizza (I just craved the almost instant gratification which a pizza with favourite toppings can bring: anchovies, capers and olives and extra added salami), I spoke to someone I often bump into at that particular restaurant, and a friend of his, about my ritual of cooking-for-sons on Wednesdays. I almost always get the same response: an almost wistfulness for not having had something like that in their lives. I had not realised how much my own sons have come to love this ritual too: recently a friend of theirs said that he had often heard about the Wednesday-with-mom dinners and always wished to be invited too. Of course that got him an instant invitation to the next dinner!
In my own life as a young adult I don’t remember anything like that, but as a small child I remember weekly trips to my mother’s parents. They lived in an adjacent East Rand town: about 15 to 20 minutes away. My father drove us there, and just before the final turn-off, there was a railway crossing where we sometimes, if we were lucky, had to stop for a train with a steam engine billowing, what seemed to me, a magical cloud of steam, and to which my dad always repeated the same riddle: “sakke pakke sout en peper, gee hom stoom dan loop hy beter”..
We would arrive at my grandparents’ house, parking at the back and walking into the house at the kitchen door, to smells of cooking and my grandmother in her home-sewn apron tight around her rather stout torso. She was short and sturdy and had thin ankles, and kept her hair dark: home-dyed in a ritual which included crushing peroxide tablets and mixing it with the squeezed out contents of a tube of Wella colourant. I sometimes used to sit on the edge of the bath watching her apply the paste to her hair, the stingy peroxide stink in my nose.
She was always in her kitchen, or at her sewing machine, this grandmother of mine. Sometimes when we arrived for this midweek dinner, there would still be pins stuck in the top of her apron which she would have to remove before gathering me to her proverbial and substantial bosom for a hug hello. In her larder she had tins of home baked cookies, and white boere-rusks with aniseed, and there would always be, seemingly exclusively for us, her grandchildren, jewel-bright bowls of juddering jelly in the Fuchs fridge, a round-edged hunk of a fridge, which shape is now reproduced as “retro”, with a horizontal handle that clunked open with a distinctive sound that alerted my gran that we were checking if there was jelly in the fridge. There always was: green and red and pine-apple flavoured yellow..
The fridge stood in her dining room for some reason, which had a dark ball and claw rectangular table and chair set, and around the walls were narrow shelving which I think my grandfather installed, with rows of preserves, made from fruit from their garden, and even jars of preserved meat which to me looked utterly inedible in its layers of fat and meaty gelatine.
After the meal, most often meat and potatoes and beans and sweet pumpkin and sticky white rice eaten usually at the grey formica kitchen table, the adults would stay sitting after the table had been cleared: my dad and his father in law sipping a brandy, my mom and her mom, after having done the dishes, tea.
I don’t know where my sister and brothers were. But I would be on my dad’s lap, being lullabied to sleep by the soft reassuring rumbling of adult voices and my dad’s heart beating under my child’s ear.
I selfishly hope that my kids may remember our Wednesday meals with fondness one day when I am no longer in this earth. Memories of meals with mom: I like that idea. Maybe that’s another reason why I like cooking: creating memories for myself and loved ones…