“Sugar and spice, and all things nice, that’s what little girls are made of.”
Rowena looked down the years of memories to a group of girls walking home from school, chanting. Behind them straggled three small boys, two miserable and one mutinous. Engrossed in memories she failed to hear Edwin’s wheeled approach. Nor did she heed his soft voiced enquiry:
“What culinary delights are you planning for today, m’dear?”
“Snips and snails and puppy dog’s tails,” she murmured.
There was a burst of laughter at her elbow. “I don’t think that’ll go down any easier than the tripe you laboured over last week!”
Rowena turned with a start. “Do you have to creep up on me like that, Edwin you beast! What are you talking about?”
“I asked what you were planning to cook today, and you replied: snips and snails and puppy dog’s tails. Where were you?”
“School days, Ed. When Lou and Aggie and I were walking home with a couple of chums. Wilf and Al and one of the other boys were following us – they had to walk with us and we were supposed to look after them at the crossings. And they hated it! So we teased them. My book reminded me ...”
She lifted the open book. Above a succulent looking pie Edwin read the words: “Sugar and Spice, Desserts to Delight.” He laughed.
“You’d better make it something more obviously a dessert than your apple pie. I know Dad loves sweet things and I can’t understand why he can taste the sweetness and can’t taste anything else.”
“It’s because he drenches everything with salt and pepper, Ed. No, really it is more than that. It’s his age – he has difficulty chewing, and chewing both releases the flavours and aids the digestion. So all he does is swallow; that is why everything needs to be so soft. He can’t eat highly spiced foods and he despises what he calls bland foods, so he over uses the salt and pepper. I am making a rich beef casserole with mashed potato, and I chopped the vegetables for the casserole very small so I think he will manage that. But I think the dessert needs to be quite light and I am undecided between a mousse and a baked custard.”
“Oh, the mousse!” Edwin loved mousse. “I can guarantee that’ll go down a treat!”
Rowena laughed. “Right, mousse it will be.” She glanced at the clock on the wall. “But right now it is morning tea time. Is Dad in the living room?”
“Where else? Close enough to the fire to singe himself, newspaper six inches from his nose, and likely to drop off any moment. Shall I take that?” He held out his hands for the tray. “I see you’ve managed to get his tea strong enough and probably laden with sugar – that’ll wake him up for a bit. Afterwards I’ll try to get him to come out into the sun for a while. The wind has dropped and there is a very comfortable corner where he can sit and watch the sea and the birds.”
“Thank you, Edwin. I’ll join you when I’ve made the mousse. The fresh air will do us all good.”
Her fingers busy with a familiar task, Rowena’s thoughts wandered again. This time the central figure was her beloved father in law. She remembered meeting the family. She was briefly welcomed and instantly absorbed. Only Mary, Edwin’s mother, was not present. Edwin’s father took her hand, leading her away from the family group.
“Come and meet my Daisy.”
They found her on her knees pulling carrots to add to her basket of vegetables. Her husband offered her his hand.
“Edwin’s come and brought Rowena to meet us, Daisy.”
Why Daisy? Wasn’t her name Mary?
Seeing her puzzlement he explained: “Mary was a farmer’s daughter. I plucked her from the field, so now she is my Daisy.”
They laughed at each other, and Mary hugged her close, including her in their love.
Now Mary was gone and Geoff was alone with his salt white hair and his peppery humour. She was thankful that he had laid aside his independence and agreed to share their home. Her thoughts became prayers:
“Lord, keep Your hand upon Your servant, and as he has loved and served You and Your church for many years, so help us to love and serve him through these his final days. Even with the pepper and salt!” She chuckled.
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