Today would have been my Dad’s birthday. He would have been seventy nine, the threshold to true old age. Tomorrow is the third anniversary of my Mum’s death. So, this is a difficult time for me, in addition to having my fifty first skin cancer partially removed today.
Is it any wonder I feel, well, a little bleak?
I have baked Dad birthday cake. Strictly speaking, they are cupcakes which are currently sitting on the bench cooling, awaiting orange flavoured icing. While he was alive and after Mum died, I used to bake him a cake and post it to him. For this one needed to choose a recipe appropriately, something firm and dense that would pack well. It also had to be dairy free, given that his body had developed quite a violent aversion to all things creamy, cheesy, and buttery. Chocolate beetroot cake turned out to be best, which I baked into muffin sizes and wrapped individually, so he could just put them in the freezer. Anyone living solo, whether by choice or not, cannot get through a whole cake even if it is their birthday.
Dad was so wrapt up in his grief that it never actually dawned on him that I had been living solo for some time and that perhaps, I might have some tips to share on that state in life. Does a parent ever see that their children can teach them? Mine certainly didn’t, or if they did, they kept that a secret. Not that I am pretending for even a nano second that I could understand the loss of a life partner. Mum and Dad had been married in 1958, and in my view should have been unmarried soon after, but the world was not like that then. Both came from families that were…how to express this? My short list of adjectives is lengthy and dismaying. I shall settle for the simple word ‘miserable’. I think my parents were cultured in misery and it went through them the way an onion can permeate warm milk. They did not know any different.
Recently, my brother sequentially rescued two birds who had sought refuge in his backyard. When the second bird arrived, the squabbling started. My nephew joked that it was Granny and Granpa come back to visit. Everyone laughed in instant recognition. Their relationship was hardly warm. Which is why I find these two particular days, Dad’s birthday, and Mum’s deathday, so hard to bear. One reflects forward, hopes for a year to come. The other reflects backward, on how a life was lived. Collectively they represent the mystery of those who you shared your life with, and remain completely perplexed by.
At least cake is not mysterious.