My sister in law is not formidable. She’s kind, caring, of a gentle disposition. She’s a bit bonkers too but then so are a number of my family and those to whom we are attracted. Personally I think non-stereotypical behaviours, which after all is what madness mostly is, add to the gaiety of nations – well, they make charades more fun.
So having appraised the Archaeologist of my lost battle on the pre-move downsizing front (he took it with the expected resignation) he informed my SIL. She didn’t say much but the next weekend we all arrived early to continue helping with the packing.
‘I’ll start on the food then.’ SIL headed for the kitchen.
We all knew a fair proportion of mum’s cupboards held every spice and packet and tin and jar imaginable. Most would not be needed in the couple of weeks until the move day. I went upstairs to empty the airing cupboard (I found some lavender drying in the back, hidden by a Matterhorn of towels, which I’m pretty certain was ten years old). The Archaeologist and mum made for the garage to begin the task of deciding if any of the wood she had saved down the years could be burnt on a planned bonfire – neither of us had much hope but as it turned out even mum recognised her days at the lathe were numbered).
Thus it was a couple of hours before we returned to the kitchen for a tea and cake break (apricot and date, with an exceptional cardamon cream – I keep a diary, that’s how I know!)
I suppose I was expecting a number of filled boxes but there were a couple. Instead on one counter-top were a series of tins and jars and packets separated into sections. Mum’s frown was one of suspicion.
Stepping back for a moment, I should add that, for many years the Archaeologist and I had known Mum wanted a daughter. There were things she felt she could have done with a daughter that we boys failed to provide, of that there is no doubt. Circumstances meant mum and dad stopped expanding the Le Pard dynasty at me but the lack of a woman on to whom she could pass her many skills (I know, that’s a bit sexist but indulge her please; in her sphere of influence she was demonstrably the stronger of the species so she didn’t waste her energises on proving the already self evident) left something of a void, one which she was delighted to fill with her daughters in law, both of whom are crafty women (yes, I do mean that in every sense). But there was one trait she understood better than we mere quintessences of dust and that was her DILs didn’t accept the same BS from her that her sons did. And therein lay the problem we were now confronting.
‘Ok Barbs. I’ve set out the items you have to throw away, just so you can decide if you want to replace them. Then there are those which you should dump and those which you could keep but it would be better if they went too. I’ve packed the rest.’ There was this tone in my SIL’s voice that, to me, didn’t suggest she was commencing negotiations. More ‘just sign here’.
Mum didn’t even approach the items. ‘They’re all fine.’
SIL was prepared. She picked up a label-less metal lump that may have been a tin once but now resembled the sort of clinker you might find at the bottom of a steel smelter. ‘This had ‘mangoes’ written on it in marker pen. It was pressed against the hot water pipe at the back of the cupboard. I think the contents have been cooking for some time.’
Mum shrugged but didn’t fight. ‘What’s wrong with that one?’ She pointed at the tin next to it.
‘It has a ‘use by date’ of August 04. That’s three years past.’
‘Phooey. They put those on so gullible fools buy new when they don’t need to.’
‘Barbs. You can hear the contents bubbling inside.’
‘We had tins I bought in the war which I used to feed these two boys ten years later and it didn’t affect them.’
SIL looked from me to my brother and her expression suggested she found that statement debatable. However she merely dropped the can into a black bag she was holding and waited for mum.
Mum pursed her lips. ‘I’ll dig it out after you’ve gone.’
‘We’ll take it with us.’
By now, mum was alongside SIL starign at the three sections of commestibles. She picked up a jar, inspecting the label. ‘This hasn’t passed its date.’
SIL looked at it. ‘That is because you’ve had it since before they introduced sell by and use by dates.’ She looked at the Archaeologist and me. ‘I looked it up on my phone. This brand ceased before then.’
The debate rumbled on for a while, but with each victory, mum’s shoulders sagged. We men watched, both marvelling and saddened. Mum must have noticed the less than positive body language of the marginalised. With an edge to her voice, that brooked no argument she turned on us. ‘Well, you two are very quiet. What do you think?’
I looked at him; he looked at me. I knew we were both of the same mind, as we had been since we could both speak. We might be, in aggregate over 100, but somethings do not change. He was the one brave enough to articulate the thought.
‘Can we go outside and see what happens when we open the mangoes?’
After all, scientific research has always taken precedence over all else.
As for dad’s poem, this time it’s from a birthday card, in 1986. You may not have heard that dad wrote mum poem on each of her birthdays and demanded she showed no one which she didn’t until the day after he died when she gave them all to me. At the time of this poem, Mum was 61 and they’d been married 34 years.
On other people’s birthdays it isn’t really hard
To write lots of jolly verses to put inside their card
The idea is to make ’em smile and I often find that I’m
Already giggling over some atrocious rhyme.
But that’s for other people, members of the crowd
Bawdy, silly doggerel meant for reading out loud
And though I must admit I love the laughter when it starts
It’s all just flippant fun from my mind and not my heart.
But writing in your card, my love, on this your special day
Is a very different matter ‘cos the things I want to say
Are all pent up inside me and they’re sometimes mixed with tears
For I love you very much and I have through all the years.