Because it’s cold and wintery, I’ve started building hot breakfasts, like WeetBix and porridge, into my morning repertoire. This usually involves some microwave action followed by the addition of full cream milk and brown sugar (or sometimes honey or agave) along with some strawberries or raspberries, maybe banana. Whatever we have around the house that works. As I was making breakfast the other day, I remembered that my nanna (on my mum’s side) used to make the best porridge.
She wasn’t into any of this microwave shit. Her porridge was strictly stove-top and it would come out a steaming hot blob that I would dutifully smother with milk and white sugar. Aside: I remember my mum tried to give me porridge and brown sugar once and I cracked it and started crying. I seem to recall that I didn’t like it because it looked like the freckles on this kid’s face on a TV show I was watching when she brought it over. The weird things that upset you when you’re a kid, right? Anyway, by the time I was done, the oats looked like a tiny, crusted island floating in a sea of white. I can’t imagine it was very healthy but, fuck, did it taste good.
I’m not going to rewrite history and say I was super-close to my nanna because I wasn’t. But we did get along, much better than I got along with my grandpa, anyways (which isn’t saying much, really). We had a lot in common. We were both massive book worms, often staying up late into the night reading at the kitchen table. We both loved playing cards and we even sat alike, with one leg tucked under us on the seat.
When she died in 2011, my partner and me were travelling from Jamaica to New Orleans. I remember we were on our way to our hotel when I saw messages from family on Facebook saying to call home immediately. I had a sinking feeling in my chest as we went from store to store trying to find a phone card so we could avoid the exorbitant hotel call charges. When I finally called home, my aunt told me my nanna had died and I started crying on the phone. I remember being surprised that she sounded so surprised that I was crying (and wondering what the hell that said about me or her, I don’t know which). We were meant to go out that night but I didn’t feel up to it. My partner ran me a bath and ended up convincing me to come out, to take my mind off things, but it was a weird night and I couldn’t really get into it. It didn’t feel right.
Nanna made other things beside porridge. She made a banging braised steak as well as a pretty damn tasty steak and kidney (that I always picked the kidney out of). She was a pretty good cook actually, even if my grandpa used to claim it was all him. In truth, he was good at starting the meals but then he’d get bored and wander off to watch TV or listen to the radio in his room and she’d end up having to finish it. He’d come back at the end and claim all the glory, of course. He was a bit of a dick in general, really.
Mum used to tell me stories of his drunken antics, his abusiveness, other worse things. Nanna tried to leave him but, back in those days and with seven kids, she had nowhere to go. Her family and friends ostracised her, she couldn’t get a job, so, eventually, she went back to him and they stayed together – happily or unhappily – until he died in 2008. I was overseas, in Jamaica, again. These grandparents die at such inconvenient times – j/k.
She seemed to thrive after that, except one time at the first Christmas after he died, the whole family was at the house and it all seemed to get too much for her and she left the room to cry. I suppose after all that, you can’t help who you love. Spend your whole life with someone and, no matter how shitty they may be at times, you’re going to find it to hard to scrub yourself completely free of them. But she was a tough old bird. She went through some rough times and came out the other side. And she made a pretty mean pot of porridge.