Sweetened Memories

Each year, on this day, my thoughts turn, with reverence, to memories of my Great Aunt M. Throughout the year I think of her often, but on this day, I spend a few quiet moments recalling her warmth and kindness toward me and all the happiness during time spent with her. As much as it saddens me that she’s gone, I’m more grateful that I knew her.

Today would have been my aunt’s 89th birthday. As I made my first meal of the day, one of the items I chose to make put a huge smile on my face. I remembered how much my Aunt M used to look forward to having family and friends from towns larger than the one in which she lived visit her because it sometimes meant they might bring her some of the foods from the country of her birth. One of those foods that I made this morning was ripe plantains, which are best described as the much larger siblings of bananas.

Aunt M lived in a small town where it was close to impossible to get many of the foods she had eaten while growing up. I on the other hand can get them all without any difficulty. Yet, I take it for granted and only buy them on rare occasions. Still, I’m glad today was one of those occasions and I’m even happier that having it brought to mind someone whom I loved so dearly.

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On another note, for anyone who’s never eaten plantains before, you can usually find them in the produce department of most large grocery stores. I gave mine time to ripen – just like you would bananas – then I peeled the skin, cut it into three equal pieces, then sliced those pieces lengthwise. I then fried the slices in a hot frying pan with organic coconut oil (you can use your preference of cooking oil). I fry the slices of plantain until they are golden brown, and then eat. Be ready for a sweet surprise…

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Today I’m Reminded…

Today – and most days –, I’m reminded of a woman who I was fortunate to know in my lifetime: She was my Great Aunt M and she was one of the most kind and loving people I’ve ever known. Today is the day she was born and I prefer remembering it than dwelling on the day I witnessed her passing away. Even though I live thousands of miles away from where she once lived, and can’t place yellow flowers on her grave, I pay homage to her memory as often as I can because I learned so much about compassion and unconditional love from her.

She was the kind of person who, although quiet, was strong. Not everyone can survive being put on a ship alone as a young adult and sent thousands of miles away from your family to make your mark in the world. Not everyone would have been able to thrive in a place where they knew no one, but had to prove themselves knowledgeable and capable of saving lives from the very first moment they reported to a new job, but she did. Every person whose life she touched, in even the smallest way, still remembers her. The goodwill of her deeds still lives on in the community where she lived, eventually married, and raised her children.

I’ve been the beneficiary of that goodwill each time I’ve visited her small town and someone has made the connection between who she was and who I am. The pride felt in those moments is overwhelming, and added to the love and respect I already felt for the woman who loved me my whole life. It also made me feel more fortunate that what I know of her came to me, not from her professional life, but from moments that are more intimate. Times where I was fed favourite meals by her, walking with her through the streets of her town on cool summer mornings, sharing cups of tea with her dearest friends after shopping in the local market, or receiving small gifts that always arrived in time for my birthday.

Her memory keeps me positive because every time I think of her I know that somewhere inside me lives the things she taught simply by living her life. I know that I can be strong and survive anything life throws my way. When I am fearful, I know that the courage I need to overcome whatever I’m facing is within me. I know a smile and words of kindness can go a long way to make another person’s day or life better. When I am sad, I have wonderful happy memories in which she lives that I can recall. I know the value of doing good in the world because her work and its legacy live on. Most importantly, I know what it is to be loved unconditionally and what can come of giving love in the same way.

Today I honour the memory of my Great Aunt M and I am grateful I had the opportunity to know her.

 

 

My Home Is Quiet Once More

After two weeks of lots of activity and chatter, my home is quiet once more. My cousins returned home, overseas, on Sunday and they left me with great memories and a gaping silence. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up the pace of activity needed to show them a good time and, more importantly, to occupy the attention span of a six-year-old, while still managing to take care of my health, but I somehow managed to do it; and I had fun in the process. Now that they’ve left, my home feels oddly still and quiet, unlike it never has before. To tell the truth I started missing them before they left for the airport.

I didn’t know that having constant company could be so good for my health – emotionally and physically. While my cousins were here, I had a few days of terribly intense pain, but because I wasn’t alone with it, I think I was able to cope better with it than I usually do. I had the foresight to plan rest days in between activity days that involved taking them out to see city sights and some attractions that took us out of the city for the day. Although those days were hard, not missing any pain medication doses and the distraction of chatter and laughter, helped me deal with all the movement and long drives. I also took full advantage of the days that I scheduled for rest, whether it was sleeping in or taking afternoon naps, that my body made it clear I needed – and still do need.

Surprisingly, I was able to cook many of our meals, which I did with pleasure. I think I might have forgotten how much I enjoy cooking for people these past few years while I’ve been ill and, at times, barely able to cook for myself. My cousin was a big help in the kitchen, doing the after-dinner cleanup and helping with some of the prep when I needed it. I don’t think I would have been able to do as much for as many days, if she hadn’t been so supportive. I didn’t even mind getting up early some mornings to make breakfast for my finicky youngest guest, who was very particular about what she would eat for which meals, and how precisely some items had to be prepared. Children’s food preferences don’t always make sense, but I was thrilled when we finally hit on a few items that became acceptable daily staples for her.

Not everything went smoothly for the visit, but nothing ever does in life. They were able to connect with some other family and meet some of my close friends, but most of the 14-day visit was just the three of us. The only hiccups were due to bad weather (rain or extreme heat) that kept us indoors, the odd event not proceeding as planned, or my body making it impossible for me to do much. There were also playdates that never materialized with the children and grandchildren of friends and family, which I had organized in advance to make sure my cousin’s daughter had company close to her age as often as possible to play with, but it was hard getting everyone’s schedules to sync up with so much happening every day.

My Home Is Quiet Once More

With all that activity going on, I didn’t have any time for the anxiety that had gripped me ahead of their arrival to set in again. I also didn’t have much time to myself to do much of the creative things I usually spend my time doing. Before they arrived, I bought my cousin’s little girl crayons, pencils, and markers, and matching sketchbooks for the two of us, thinking that would be a clever way to get us to do something together. Until yesterday, I didn’t drawn a single line in my sketchbook. There was so much activity to plan, whether it was our meals or what attraction or event I had planned for us to do – and I desperately needed the rest days in between – that drawing or doing anything creative was impossible. My cousin’s little girl, however, had plenty of time to play and draw, so my refrigerator is now covered in drawings and handmade birthday cards for which I am truly grateful. When I look at them, my home feels a little less quiet because their bright colours evoke memories of laughter and good company.