There’s been a flurry of goodbye dinners and lunches this month so far: a final dinner only two weeks away. My son flies out to China on Wednesday the 27th, and I think we will probably go out to dinner at his favourite Johannesburg restaurant, The Leopard on the night before. His wife has already left: she is visiting her parents in France while she waits for her Chinese visa to arrive in London(She has UK citizenship and could not fly out of SA to China). They, romantically, had planned to arrange their flights from here and London to intersect at a stopover to Chengdu, but fate(in the form of a school waiting for the new teachers) had other plans, so that my son will arrive there a week before her to take care of finding an apartment.
Yesterday I had another set of friends over to say goodbye: some “hellos” in there too: two people in our home for the first time, and two more for the first time in months. The kitchen was hot and redolent with the fragrance of a deeply spiced roasting leg of lamb, and heaving with people and laughter. Some conversations had an almost urgent edge, created by knowing that this was goodbye for a long while.
So, I cooked. This is almost what I do best, I believe, and also probably what my son will miss most about me: my cooking. And how I love to plan a lunch or dinner, picking up ingredients as late as possible for freshness. The only item I got two days ago, was dried chickpeas: I made falafel, and for that the chickpeas really DO have to be soaked at least overnight. The deboned leg of lamb I got in the morning, at a favourite butcher. I must have felt a little flustered: I had to turn back to fetch forgotten flowers from the flower shop: (I had asked the guy to mix 4 bunches for me while I was at the butcher and liquor store). I thought about how this Middle Eastern menu had become a favourite: falafel and tahini sauce, babaganoush appropriately smoky and garlicky, hummus and a chopped Israeli salad for the one vegan and one vegetarian, and lamb spicy with the rub recipe from Jerusalem for schwarma’d lamb. In the end, the meat eaters had falafel too: I was glad that I had made a heap of those. I wonder of my cooking will start to take on a Far Eastern style as I hear about their culinary adventures in Szechuan province!
I broke three champagne flutes: not sure what that was about, but they all seemed to slip out of my fingers in relaxed moments: maybe it was all the champagne I had! And we sat down to lunch about an hour and a half later than I had anticipated, and I overcooked the lamb a bit. But the last people left long long after dark, after staying to talk more and listen to my youngest son’s girlfriend singing along with backing tracks and my husband’s sax playing.
In the end we all felt sweetly sentimental and softened by lots of food and wine and music and hugs. It felt a bit like a wake, in the most wonderful way though: celebrating a life changing event for my oldest son, and just in the background, waiting his turn, my youngest son is at the threshold of a new era in his life too: he has a new job in Pretoria and will move there soon. Not quite as far as Chengdu, but further than ever from this mother’s cooking! Some goodbyes to come yet…