This post was originally written as part of the assignments in Writing 101: Building A Better Blogging Habit. On Day Ten the subject was Happy, asking us to write about a favourite meal.
My memory is not about a meal but about making toffee. This is memorable to me because it was something really special during a particular time of deprivation during my life.
A time when a highlight during the school holidays was the Salvation Army coming around with food and clothing boxes. We six kids would scramble wildly through the boxes looking for clothes that fit us. Eventually, one S. A. Officer said to mum “I don’t know how long we can keep this up!” At the time dad was in jail, I think it was for non-payment of driving fines.
Dad operated on the principal that if you were not licensed then it couldn’t be taken away from you. Dad timed his arrest outside of the shearing season. He’d hide in the wardrobe or behind the couch if coppers turned up to get him before he was ready. Or if he didn’t want to shoe their horses, one couldn’t be too sure when one turned up: very embarrassing for mum when he would come out after she had just sworn he was away in Broken Hill working.
He had no understanding of what it was like for us when he was in jail. He would write of the wonderful food he was eating in prison. He would put SWALK on the back of the envelope. Sealed with a loving kiss. We imagined it meant Save Wiggy A Little Kake. Wiggy was the nickname given to the baby of the family.
Mum swallowed her pride and continued to beg on our behalf. Mum lived on sweet tea, some days I swear she did not eat at all. Once, all we had to eat were mulberries from the orchard and mum made pastry and bran biscuits from the horse’s feed. Dad had the cheek to complain when he found out.
I got a pair of thongs that Xmas (not that sort of thong you drongo – flip-flops) and was grateful, and happy to go along with the present charade for the benefit of my younger siblings. I felt like I was mum’s supporter, though my sister recalls it was her that had to go with mum on the begging missions to St Vincent de Paul’s and the Salvation Army.
Since I was the eldest I was in charge of staying home and looking after my four brothers when a shopping trip came around.
Mum considered the monthly endowment money the government paid for us kids as her treat. She would buy us something or give us money out of it, more likely both, if she didn’t have to spend it on food. Several times a year she would have her hair permed. This seems the only nice thing to ever happen to her. And afterwards she would go sit in a café and have a cup of tea and pretend for a moment she didn’t have a ragged dress on under her coat.
How I underestimated the life my mother must have had! It makes me feel bad.
Anyway, back to that toffee.
As soon as mum went off to go shopping (the old bloke down the road used to take her and I suppose this was when there was money though I think mum had food vouchers at times) I got the sugar out of the cupboard. I could use whatever sugar there was because mum would buy lots more. I would carefully lay out a teatowel on the sink – mum’s voice in my ears warning how hot toffee on a cold sink top would crack the precious Pyrex dish. I would stoke the wood stove, butter the dish, sip the vinegar.
I would try to shoo the boys out of the kitchen. They all wanted to be around when test time came, the dropping of hot toffee into a cup of cold water . My mouth is drooling now, imagining slurping those soft sweet globules. Eventually it passed the crack test and I would pour the bubbling gorgeous wonderful liquid into the dish.
We would wait impatiently for the toffee to cool. The first suck on the hard toffee was bliss. We loved it, and mindful of keeping some for our sister who we imagined was getting treats of her own like ice-cream or lollies.
Eventually I did crack the dish, and that was the end of the toffee until paper patty pans appeared.
PHOTOS: Taken a year or two after this lean time, with a Box Brownie given to me by my dad. I would love to show you a photo of my mum and dad, the only one I have of them together, but if mum ever found out she would never speak to me again. So I’ve blocked her and my brother out, not exactly in an expert fashion.