This Easter Sunday, I’m grateful for the times spent with my family. We’re a small unit, and although there will also be other occasions throughout the year, Christmas and Easter (along with lots of birthdays) are the two occasions when we will all definitely come together.
As a child, family get-togethers meant rock cakes, tinned fruit cocktail and ham sandwiches at my Nannie and Grandad’s, or a lamb roast with mint sauce made fresh from the garden, served on Willow Pattern china at Grandma and Grandad’s.
They meant hours playing with my three cousins: making school books out of old fashioned continuous paper and pretending we were in boarding school ‘prep’ (we read a lot of Enid Blyton), attending a meeting of The Animal Friends Club – or TAFC, as it said on our badges – (Animals of Farthing Wood-inspired; we were very concerned about animal welfare and each of us had animal aliases: my little cousin Bobby was ‘lamb’), attending a tea party in the summerhouse with plastic bowls of chocolate buttons and marshmallows and pink wafers, or transporting ourselves to another world in which a packet of beads simply had to be sorted into different colours (whilst wearing woollen gloves) to avoid some kind of scientific nightmare. These endless days would cumulate with our Sunday night staple, The Borrowers (remember Arietty and Homily and Pod? The model village and the boat made of a teapot?) – what a treat.
I remember one Christmas where time seemed to languish on forever, endless days of games and eating; new toys piled high on the dining table. My cousin Emily had been given her mother’s grey felt horse that year, and it is ever-present in my memories of that Christmas – shoehorned into every game we were playing, carried around like a new pet. I was so jealous! When the time finally came to go home (which, by the way, was about 20 minutes down the road), I was so distressed at being wrenched from this warm bubble, my mother suggested I start writing to Emily – and thereafter, despite living under an hour apart, we became pen friends; writing backwards and forwards using our extensive stationery collections, talking about school, about the next TAFC meeting, about whatever else was happening in our little eight year-old lives. I hope children of today still do this; it’s so much more special that a Facebook message or a Snapchat.
We’re definitely a family that loves food: double cream must be involved in at least one dish (when I moved to London, my Dad bought me an electric whisk, a kitchen essential: “you need something to whip your double cream with!”); there will always be a ‘goodly spread’ as my Uncle still calls it: I remember celery sticks dipped in salt, towers of sandwiches made with ‘proper’ butter, birthday cakes thick with royal icing, vol-au-vonts filled with creamy chicken (if it was a special occasion). You never leave a family get-together hungry. And my Auntie Anne ensures this tradition lives on: whenever we visit for lunch, the day will certainly involve at least two instances of cake and coffee (elevenses and tea time), there will be chocolates after lunch, and everyone will leave with a food parcel. Heaven!
As we got older and my grandparents passed away, the status quo remained: vol-au-vonts and celery sticks don’t tend to feature quite as much, but then perhaps that’s because it’s not the 1980s anymore – but we still all meet up, whether at my Dad’s or either of my Auntie’s, or even at my brother’s, now that he’s the closest thing to a grown-up amongst our generation of the family. Other boyfriends and girlfriends came and went (how I wish we’d asked them to step out of the group photos at the time!), The Borrowers was replaced by whatever else was on BBC 1 at 8pm. Myself and my cousins love to reminisce, and we still like playing games – although they’re more of the board game variety now, and they’re generally accompanied by a few glasses of wine and some cheese. ‘Exploding Kittens’ was the game du jour this Christmas, a neat segue from an original favourite, Pass the Bomb! We all love to laugh, whether it’s stories from Auntie Anne’s amateur dramatic society, my Uncle making fun of my inability to open train doors, or tales from the past, when the grainy albums of photographs are brought to life – or that video of the Pope falling over one Christmas (which left us all in a ridiculous state of hysteria, having been replayed at least five times).
Without Mum, there is a gaping hole in our meet ups. No more of Mum’s famous trifles, no more of her endless laughter, no hilarious stories of the girls at work or what happened at the latest yoga class. Nobody to remember to buy the fancy biscuits or the long candles for the silver candlesticks. Dad and I try our best though; we muddle through.
The last Easter we had with Mum – I can’t believe it was two years ago now – was as happy an occasion as ever; Mum had come home from the hospice for the night, and although she looked poorly, her beautiful blue eyes and sunny smile shone through. We ate, we laughed, we did what we always do.
Today I’ll be grateful for all those occasions we had together, and for the different occasions that are yet to come. I cherish all of our family times; they’re so precious and they’re a gift, not a guarantee.