We were driving over to dinner last night at the Frog Family house - a chance for everyone to get together after Frog Father has been home a few days and to gather enough hands so that he could have a game of cards - when Frog glanced at me and remarked that I was being very quiet. "Just thinking", I said, "about my Grandma".
I had spent the better part of the afternoon cooking a dessert to take over for the family. I chose to make a Lemon Surprise pudding, something both my Mum and Grandma used to make. It's a type of clafoutis with lemon sauce underneath and I had been cursing the fact I didn't have an electric whisk, as I strained to handwhisk the egg whites into the 'stiff, white peaks' that the recipe demands. I used to have Grandma's old electric whisk, but I guessed it was still in a box at Mum's, where I left it when I moved to New York.
The pudding didn't turn out quite how I wanted it. The dish was too large and the top 'sponge' ended up spread too thin. I knew it would taste okay, but it wasn't what I wanted to present to the Frog Family. So, I spent the larger part of the afternoon complaining to Frog that it wasn't great, and then on handing it over to Mother Frog, apologised that it wasn't the best, that it hadn't worked out right. And that's when I caught myself imitating my Grandma.
In the end we used to tell her to be quiet, as she handed us Sunday puddings, Christmas Cakes, boxes of biscuits and tarts for the week's packed lunch, always complaining that x,y, or z wasn't right with them. Of course they were always perfect, it's just she was a good cook and anything less than 150% perfection was considered under par.
I miss my Grandma. I wish she knew how often I think about her. In most ways I am the opposite of her, I have the self confidence she never had, the worldly experience she never gained, but my life has not been as hard as hers was, and I don't have an ounce of the patience she usually displayed (and if anyone asks me if I want a cup of tea, I, unlike her, can give a direct answer, not worrying if I'm putting the other person out). Grandma used to take the bus every week over to our house to clean, because Mum was a single-working mum, and that was what she knew she could do to help. After church and Sunday lunch we would spend the afternoon all togther and after the Antiques Roadshow, she would go home clutching a bag with all our laundry for ironing. When I was being my stubborn, sulky self, she would take me to one side and urge me "be good for your mum".
It would have been her 91st birthday last week and I still miss her. I know that her last couple of years were not the happiest and her frailness, ill health, increased dependence on my Mum, and imminent move out of her home, meant she was ready to leave us, even if that was something we were never going to be readied for.
Whilst everyone was on holiday in August, I spent a weekend visiting her in the care home she'd entered 'for a summer rest', but which we all knew would be a permanent move. I had the chance to share her last day with her. It was a warm day and I read her the postcard my sister had sent her from the last leg of her South American backpacking adventure; told her I expected Mum would be calling on Sunday evening from her (much needed) Spanish walking trip; she strained to smell the freesias which I had bought her and then turned to sleep the rest of the day, whilst I sat next to her reading. I remember her being in bed, without the strength to turn herself and unable to take much of the water which the nurses were asking me to try and persuade her to drink from a nursing mug. I'm still not sure if she heard me say goodbye when I left for the evening and that I would be back tomorrow before taking the train home to London.
So, it shouldn't have surprised me when I had the call the next day, from my aunt in Cumbria, to say Grandma had died that night. I know my Mum and sister find it difficult that she didn't hold on a couple more weeks to wait for them to come home and say goodbye. That's what happens in the books and movies, right? Well, maybe she was more stubborn that we gave her credit for. She'd definitely had enough.
I'm just happy that now when I dream of her she's still the Grandma who took me to the local park and tickled me when a photo was being taken, so the image I'm left with shows me on the ground, legs akimbo, flashing my knickers; everyday after school fed me ham sandwiches and cups of tea in her bedsit, when I was waiting for Mum to finish work; that I had to lie to that the crash in the kitchen wasn't Mum swearing as she dropped the tray of roast potatoes for Christmas lunch, which would be scooped up and served, 'not a word to Grandma'; who wrote me letters when I was at University, that apologised for how little news she had to write; whose annual holiday was a few nights in a Bed & Breakfast 10 miles down the road in Bournemouth, for a change of air; gave me 40p pocket money a week (and my sister 20p, ha!) and who, for an average sized woman, gave a surprisingly tight hug.
She still makes me cry to think (and write) of her, but as Mum said at the funeral, she deserved our tears. Oh, and happily, everyone told me the Lemon Surprise was lovely, and the whole dish was polished off, plates clean.