Magic Mirror….

November is always the cruellest month. For me. Not for Harry Potter. At Hogwarts, November heralds the heroic moment just before the monster gets slain and everyone gets to sit down at a fabulous banquet. For me, it’s never a good time, because it’s also the month my father died. 

Like most days, he left for work.  Like most days, he kissed my mom.  Like most days, we thought he’d be coming back. He didn’t.  A pilot, he died from a massive heart attack in his early forties.  He was reading a book while his co-pilot flew the plane. At least he was doing something he loved.

I was sixteen, my sisters nine and six respectively.  Losing a parent at such an early age has left an indelible, but distinct mark on each of us – and although the scars have faded, they are still there if you probe hard enough. Anyone who has lost a parent, a lover, a sibling or a child will understand what I mean.

Harry Potter lost his parents too, and in one of his adventures, he finds The Mirror of Erised, a magic mirror that shows the ‘deepest and most desperate desires of ones heart’. He stares at that mirror for a long time, because in its reflection, he sees his parents as if they were alive.  I’ve always found that particular piece of the story very moving.  No piece of shiny glass would bring my dad back.

What I didn’t realise was that eventually, I too would find a magic mirror of sorts. An acquaintance sent us a YouTube video link which shows footage of my dad.  It’s part of an old TV documentary filming the Shackleton bomber. It’s extraordinary, because we never had a video camera, so we only have photos of my dad.  I can’t really describe how it felt to see him on that clip – captured in time, but very much present, very much alive.  It made me feel happy and incredibly sad at the same moment. 

So…this is my own reflection for today. The people we love and lose are never far from our hearts. The magic is in the remembering.

The Secret Ingredient…

When I was little, my dad, who wasn’t terribly good at DIY made my mom a ‘kitchen island’.  It was a wooden cupboard on wheels (moveable, hence the ‘island’ moniker), with louvre doors and seventies ‘yeah baby’ orange and brown glaze tiles on the top.  It was made with love. It was hideous. It ended up beside the stove and served as a vegetable cupboard-cum-potstand.  In this case the wheels were superfluous because the kitchen island never moved.  But it was loved in return. 

That kitchen island was there on Sunday nights when my father made pancakes.  He was a good – but very messy – chef. He cooked with emotion and lots of utensils! Drove my mom bonkers. She had to wash up!  My dad was also the person who taught me to fling spaghetti at the wall to see if it was done ‘al dente’.  If it sticks, it’s ready!  Yes, that kitchen island was there when he died and we all sat at the kitchen table missing him as small girls in an uncertain world. My mom missed him the most because she loved him best. I think perhaps it was because they both discovered curry together!   It was hard to see that kitchen island and not think of him.

And yet, in her own unassuming way,  the person who taught my sisters and I the meaning of togetherness when we were growing up was my mom.  Sundays in our house were always roast dinner in winter and braais (barbeques) in summer. My mom grew up in a country that could not be described as the culinary capital of the world – though they probably could claim the patent for inventing the potato!  Despite this, she made fantastic homemade pizza, superb sweet and sour chicken and a pretty good curry.  You know, the old fashioned type served with sultanas, chopped tomato and cucumber and dessicated coconut. Yum! Yum!  I often think of those meals! 

Even today, mealtimes are important for my sisters and I.  They are a chance to get friends and loved ones round the table – to share the news of the day, to commiserate, to celebrate, to laugh and perhaps to cry when we remember absent friends and fathers. We all cook with passion…and I must admit, a fair degree of garlic, herbs and other spices. Fresh, of course!  I think for each of us, cooking brings particular pleasure. I’m not a baker (too scientific) but I can make pavlova.  My middle sister does a fab roast pork, and my baby sister has a cracking recipe for apple crumble with Toblerone! It’s our recipe for love – the secret ingredient you will never find in any book, but one that nonetheless makes a meal that is cooked with care and thought, taste great.