A sense of home

I spent the afternoon with my great grandparents. The fact that their ashes were scattered to the winds over thirty years ago seemed irrelevant. My home, a place they never saw, was full of their presence as the years slipped away and I became a child once more.

It had been a pretty rough week, what with one thing and another. Chilled and aching when I came home from work, I had a sudden craving for comfort food. The pantry, as usual, was full of dog food and little else. The fridge yielded only the bare essentials. But the baking cupboard held exactly what I needed, although I hadn’t known what that was until I looked at the spices…

Rice pudding, sprinkled with freshly grated nutmeg and baked till it formed a thick, golden skin… just like great-granny used to make.

I hadn’t made one in years. It took seconds to throw everything into a dish and hours to bake, slowly and gently, to creamy perfection. And all the time it was cooking, the scent of home filled my little flat…

Great Grandma in her nineties

I close my eyes and sit once more at the old oak table with its barley-twist legs, set beside the window in the dining room. The table, covered with a heavy lace cloth is laden with square, Art Deco dishes, printed with daffodils, and the big silver and cut glass cruet that Grandma loves. Behind me, I know, is her treadle sewing machine, with all the fascinating odds and ends tucked away in its many drawers and a golden sphinx on its shiny, black surface. I can hear her in the kitchen…

Opposite me sits my great grandad. His hair has been silvery-white since his youth, his cheeks are rosy with tiny thread veins… but the blue eyes have never lost their twinkle or mischief. Behind him, on the old wooden radio, is a bronze and crystal inkwell. I clean it sometimes, along with the brasses and copper from the kitchen, loving the smell of the polish. The inkwell is shaped like a red setter… and three of them, Bonnie, Meg and Rory, sleep in a tangle on the hearthrug in front of the range. I polish that too, helping great grandma apply the black lead and buffing it till it shines.

Great Grandad and two of the setters

The air has the faint smell of this morning’s new bread, baked in the range, mixed with the tang of the coal fire and the warmth of baking rice pudding…

For a while, I am lost in that memory, transported to a time and place when there is neither worry nor pain, where I am just an innocent child, and where everything around me speaks of love

When I opened my eyes, in spite of the odd tear on my cheek, I was smiling. The tension had left my body and the worries of the day had melted away, as if I had once more been held by my great-grandparents… which, in a way, I had.

I thought how acutely we experience life through our senses, even though we are so used to them that we pay them little attention most of the time. Yet the memory of those experiences stays deeply ingrained, so much so that a simple smell can call them up on the screen of the mind, so immersively and with such precision that we are there.

It is, I suppose, a kind of time travel. If we allow the sensory memory to meet the emotions, we can be once more with people, or in places, that we have loved. Even when they are no longer in this world.

I know what my great grandparents believed they would experience after death and I know what my own beliefs are…and that the two are very different, at least at first glance. I would say that none of us can know for certain what lies beyond that portal…but great-grandma did. She died on the table during one of her many operations… and what she saw beyond the veil was beautiful, even though she was told her work was not yet done. What she described was so far from her lifelong belief that it was utterly convincing… and it brought her back for another twenty years of living, loving and teaching the next four generations of her family.

She believed, as do I, that we are supposed to be here, learning and teaching within this world, experiencing all life’s gifts through the senses. Through memory and emotion, we can revisit the past, touch the ‘unreal’ and feel it as acutely as the present moment.

There is an ancient belief that while ever a name is spoken, the person to whom it belonged still has a place in the world. I believe that is also true of a love that is remembered. Everything my great grandmother saw beyond the veil, just like everything I ‘saw’ when I closed my eyes, spoke of love. Love once known is never lost or wasted, it lives within every fibre of our being, becoming part of who we are and who we can become… and my great grandma said that love never dies.

I believe her.

51 thoughts on “A sense of home

  1. Wow – I’m salivating. I haven’t had rice pud in decades….I will have to make some here now too.. what a beautiful article Sue! I treasure my memories of grand parents too but you have reminded me to spend a bit more time with them. Thank you.

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  2. A beautiful Post, Sue. I was not fortunate enough to know my great grandparents, nor my father’s mother, but the love my maternal grandparents gave me is with me still.
    They, too had definite ideas as to what lay beyond. I hope they met each other again. Their love was all encompassing.

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  3. I can imagine this scene so easily. My great-grandparents didn’t have anything of any value, nothing to polish, and their ‘treasures’ were a few old photos, scapulars, medals and statues of saints who were useful when you were looking for something you’d lost or had a sore throat. Their world was the same though, slow and loving and very sure about what they were here for, and where they were going.

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    1. It was a frugal existence by today’sstandards, but what they lacked in materieal luxuries they made up for in abunance with things of greater value that perhaps our modern world has lost.

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  4. This is a beautiful post, Sue. The senses do bring back memories. Thank goodness you opened your cupboard to find the makings for rice pudding so you could savor the memories. And yes, your great grandmother was right. ❤️

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  5. You were indeed fortunate to have known your great-grandparents as did I. We learn so much from the older generations. My favourite line, “Love once known is never lost or wasted”. I feel that way too. This was a very special post. I hope you enjoyed your rice pudding and all the special memories it evokes. Happy Sunday.

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  6. A beautiful story, Sue, your great grandparents sound wonderful. I never knew either of my mother’s parents but I knew both of my dad’s and I have fond memories of them both. In retrospect, I think I was the favourite grandchild because I was quiet and self contained and very artistic. Granny Joan was an artist and she loved teaching me how to make things.

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  7. A lovely post Sue, full of such wonderful memories.
    When I used to take Mum up to the Crem after my Dad died, we would sit under the tree where his ashes were scattered and just think about the man we both loved as a husband and father. I took her on his birthday, their anniversary, Father’s day and the anniversary of his passing and whenever else she wanted to go. After we left the area and she came up for holidays, we’d take her to light candles or walks in the woods. I see many simple things and think of them both. Always in my heart, never forgotten, as are memories of my great grandparents when they came for holidays when I was a child.

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  8. I never knew my great grandmothers. One died when my grandmother was in 6th grade. My dad’s grandmother died when I was an infant. But I have similar memories of my grandmothers. This is a lovely story, Sue. 💕

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  9. What beautiful, beautiful memories, Sue, that being back all the senses. I didn’t know my great grandmother but my grandmother gave me similar remembrances. Ah, the prune-filled doughnuts!

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