I went to visit my father on Sunday morning to drop off a present for my stepmother. It had been her 47th birthday a few days earlier and we hadn't been able to visit because we don't live nearby anymore. Big sister Josephine, with her big heart, completely got the birthday wrong. She went out and bought all manner of 'over 50' paraphernalia, and as she was setting up the cake in the kitchen with '5 0' candles my dad said, 'But she's not 50, Josephine.'
To which my sister replied, 'I think you'll find she is.' Only as she walked with the cake into the living room, the wonky '5' now fallen on its arse, did she sheepishly note the looks on the other guests' faces - and that not a single 50 card was in sight.
I was, in keeping with tradition, a few days late with my presence:
'Hold your hands out,' I said. 'It's a rather unusual present, but I hope you'll like it.'
'Well it would be; it's from an unusual girl,' said my dad.
I handed my stepmother the bulging brown paper bag, 'It smells like that stuff,' she said.
'I think she got you some of that marjiranan stuff,' said Jack.
'Marjoram,' I said. 'Not marijuana.'
So for stepmother Eleanor's birthday I gave her lots of bags of dried herbs: basil, parsley, coriander, and other stuff from Unicorn. A pretty impressively-healthy, organic, vegan grocery in Manchester. Eleanor's wanted a dried herb collection for a while, and so I thought I'd get together a cook's starter kit. Now instead of looking at recipe books and thinking, "nope, haven't got that." She can think, "Ah-ha! That I can do." She was impressed. Actually, one day about 14 years ago, she said she'd never tried a different type of herb, and to her horror, I showed her some of that; then she was quite unimpressed; so Jack wasn't insanely wrong. What can I say, people randomly say stuff and I take it far too literally. Now I'm a grown-up, I'm more preoccupied with what to do with Chinese five spice.
I also bought her a bag of turmeric, my favourite spice ever. So versatile. And I picked up a bag of thyme. In my head I said to myself, "We all need more thyme." And smiled at the pun. And then very discreetly, I shed a little tear. I thought of our mummy friend who died very suddenly over summer. In my thoughts I said to her, if I could have given you a bag of time, I would have done. If we could really bag time and hand it out to people who needed a little extra that would have been helpful.
After the gift giving was over, Eleanor showed me the gift that her 17 year-old son had made for her: it was a "moan box", made in the shape of a postbox. It was to keep my father quiet for a week. Instead of ranting out loud, he had to write his disgruntles on a slip of paper and pop it in the box. In the "moan box", my dad had deposited a grumble a day. Hm, it was pretty packed, perhaps more than one grumble a day.
The moan box was sealed, so Eleanor tore it open and instructed me to read out the grumbles one by one:
'Why do you eat the bread from the centre of the loaf?'
'Why is litter in the living room?'
'I cleaned up dishes in kitchen again. No one else did. Left to me again.'
'Empty cake packet in the cupboard. Bin not far away.'
'These are good moans, Dad,' I said. 'They sound just like mine, don't they Jack?'
'We don't want a moan box,' he mumbled.
The last moan we pulled out was my favourite, 'Returned from work to find TV on, lights on, and pretty wife in bed sleeping. Terrible waste of money and resources.
'Dad, are you talking about the electricity, the TV, or the wife?' I laughed, because Eleanor had been off work sick for over week, with a terrible headache.
(Photo from freephoto.com)