She has always been a very talented woman but most of her talents were securely hidden under several artful and impenetratable bushels. Some of her more mysterious talents were those associated with butter.
Butter didn’t particularly affect my very youthful life because in South Africa it tasted quite foul. In England however, it altered it’s genetic make up, to become the ideal toping for warm crumpets, scones and other delectibles.
Butter has some rather odd qualities such as the ability remove stuck things. Like most children, I was all to frequently stuck in something or had something stuck on me. Butter was the solution.
As children, it was our purpose in life to make our mother’s life as miserable as possible with our constant and unreasonable demands. We plagued her with questions of the ‘when is dinner / I’m starving’ variety, at 3 minute intervals for the hour prior to the allotted time. If we were persistent, and we usually were, exasperation would take over and we were given the opportunity to ‘ruin our appetites’ with a ‘spot of bread and butter.’
It would be at this juncture, with hindsight, that I find myself apologetic to my mother. Her capitulation failed to bring about the desired peace and tranquility that she so richly deserved, as she laboured in the kitchen to produce a nutritious and attractive meal for all five of us, every day, from our birthdays until we eventually left home as adults. I would poke about the well ordered fridge.
“Mummeee! Where’s the butter? I can’t find it anywhere!”
“Second shelf down, at the back on the right.”
“Where? It’s not there I can’t see it?”
“The other right.”
“No, there’s just a big um dish thing.”
“Under the dish thing.”
“Really!” she would spit in frustration as she’d bustle about and lay her hand directly on the invisible butter, slam the fridge door and slap the butter container on the corner edge of the kitchen table.
“Mum. Where’s the bread?”
“In the bread bin where it always is.”
“Where’ the bread bin?”
“Where it always is, on the boiler.”
“I can’t see it.”
“Move the cereal packets, it right behind there.” I would then fight with the lid, and the wrapping. If I was lucky it would be a ready sliced loaf, if unlucky …….
“Where’s the bread knife?”
“In the knife drawer.”
“Don’t use that one dear, use the brown handled one.” I would then attempt to carve off a lump of bread, without biting off the tip of my tongue that protruded with concentration.
“Do use a bread board dear, you’ll ruin the table.” So it would go on , step after step, and painful step. Because my mother would always be busy, sometimes I would become distracted myself. I would peel off the crust of the lump of bread and then ball up the soft sponge into dough balls. This was one of my more disgusting habits gleaned from one of my more ‘unsavoury acquaintances.’ I had many.
“How disgusting! Don’t do that. Just spread it with butter and be done! Don’t forget to use the butter knife, I don’t want lots of little crumbs in the butter dish.” I would try hard to oblige but a pat of butter is always an impenetrable brick to a child. I would carve off great lumps of potential coronaries and squash them in the all too yielding bread which would tear and mangle under my heavy handed torment.
“Good grief child. What are you doing to that poor bread? Give it here!” she would sigh. I would cogitate upon my crimes unto baked goods, sad but oh so true. She would whip the equipment away from me and demonstrate the required skill. Swift and rapid movements made corrugated slivers of butter that glanced over the surface of the bread. It was miraculous.
I would attempt smiling in return, a cross between guilt, gratitude and awe. My mother the Dairy Queen. This was proof positive that I had indeed been found under a Gooseberry bush. There was no common gene pool. Her tanned skinned. My freckled, beet red, sunburn. Her coiffed coils, my rats tails. Her skills, my ineptitude. He breaks the spell as I lean in supervision mode by the kitchen counter, “what you are do mum?” I blink.
“Just thinking dear.”
“What you are think mum?” Good grief! When was the last time any male of the species asked a female person that question? I watch him slather a pre-cut slice of bread with lashings of room temperature butter in our Californian home, with a quick slick to his tongue.
“I think maybe it skipped a generation you little magician you!”
4 hours ago