Monday, February 22, 2016

Molasses Tea

When I was a little girl, my mother would insist that we visit our paternal grandparents at least once a month. For me, it was always stressful and torturous. I couldn't let it slide off my back like my brother seemed to be able to do. I felt physically ill at the prospect of having to go there and sit at the kitchen table and endure a half an hour of painfully forced conversation (Mom always ensured we didn't stay long) - or worse, migrate to the living room where pictures of my deceased father were hung on every wall and try to ignore the elephant in the room while avoiding making eye contact. I would often leave with a migraine or tension headache. Not a good way to remember spending time with your grandparents, hey? The first time I saw my grandfather smile was when he had great grand-children. The first time I remember him telling me he loved me I was in my 20's. And my grandmother sort of followed his lead, I guess. They were old school. They always dressed in more formal-type clothes and she waited on him and kind of stayed in the background and let him take the forefront. It wasn't until after he died that I started to see her personality emerge...he had a sort of stern and domineering way about him, I guess, that she let take centre stage.

Anyway, there are a couple of bright spots in there somewhere...I have a vague memory of Nan teaching me to iron, using facecloths as practice, Granda taught me how to tie a tie when I was older (looks and sounds funny, doesn't it?...tie a tie...), and I think I watched him paint the model boats he used to make in the basement a couple of times back in the day (all of us grandkids eventually received one in a display case).

The thing that got me today, though, unexpectedly, was the molasses. I decided to make baked beans today for some strange reason, to eat later in the week. When I took the container of molasses out of the cupboard and placed it on the counter next to the kettle, I was suddenly reminded of sitting with Granda and drinking molasses tea. Granda loved to tell stories about his younger days...I wish I had been relaxed enough to actually absorb and remember them all, but they did serve as a reprieve from the mournful, heavy, discussions about death and the reminders that I no longer had a "real" father (the man actually asked me when I was 16 if I wanted to be buried next to my father when I died. I understand now that he was trying to be practical and considerate since he felt his own time was drawing near and he needed to plan for his own cemetery plot, but at the time it was very disturbing for me).

Back to the of the few things I do remember him talking about was how when he was younger there was a time when there was no sugar available so they had to use molasses to sweeten their tea. I was intrigued by this and he made me some to try. He seemed quite pleased that I liked it. It was one of the few moments of bonding I can actually say I remember having with him. The pleasantness of drinking molasses tea together at the table in a beam of sunlight coming in from the window and his happy smile because I liked it.

It actually makes me cry right now as I write this. I so wish things had been different...but I'm so glad that at least we had that moment and a couple of others like it. And so, today, I sat and drank a cup of molasses tea while beans were baking in the honour of my grandfather, who loved me and didn't know how to get past his own grief to show me in a way I could understand while he was here.

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