I love to fictionalise life memories as part of my creative writing process because there are so many riches stored in our mind from our everyday ordinary life experiences that it’s practically impossible to run out of ideas for writing. Taking a trip down memory lane always surprises me by unearthing unexpected treasures.
Of course, we all know that it is through our senses that we discover these gifts that memory offers up to us and often wander back through time without even trying. Just the waft of freshly baked bread as it fills our nostrils when we pass a baker’s shop can conjure up wonders from our past; caressing material before we buy an item of clothing can remind us of something we once flounced around in back in the day, hearing a certain song can transport us to a special event in our life that we may have forgotten about; likewise, watching an old film on TV and, my favourite, the taste of gravy made from real meat juices. This can take me back to numerous family meal times with a whole host of emotional turmoil to use as writing material, depending on which memory springs to mind.
Recently, however, it was a burnt pan that took me on a reflective journey down memory lane. I wondered how, from being able to create a roast dinner with all the trimmings from the age of 13 for a family of 6, I’d come to the point where I could burn a pan of water by simply steaming potatoes and vegetables.To explore my past memories in order to answer this question would justify the production of an epic memoir and the time I’ve allotted to write this missive would not come close to touching the surface of that.
Therefore, I’ll try not to meander through the memories that burnt pan brought to mind as I share with you my initial responses, though it will be difficult because each memory we have touches on another in some way and, once the writing process begins, the mind starts to filter those connections through the pen onto the page, where it flows in a river of thoughts – as I said, an epic memoir waiting to be written.
I’ll endeavour to remain focussed on brevity and tell you that in 1971, after giving up my job as a shorthand typist at the local psychiatric hospital, I went off to work in a cafeteria at a holiday camp in Wales (I know… Crazy). One morning, I was put in charge of making egg sandwiches for the display cabinet and duly placed a copious amount of eggs in a colossal pan of water and lit the gas. Whilst waiting for them to boil, I went back to the counter to butter bread and finish off a few other jobs. Thirty minutes later, interspersed with loud popping noises coming from the kitchen, a voice boomed out ‘who… the… xxxx’s… left… all… these… xxxxing…eggs… on… here?’ I ran into the kitchen to witness two dozen eggs exploding through the air in all directions from the burnt out pan.
This memory then led to me thinking about the incident that was the impetus for me becoming adept at cooking a family roast with all the trimmings, albeit the memory is a futile attempt to stop me grieving the burnt vegetables and potatoes in the steamer.
In the 1960’s, my mother suffered from severe problems that required regular electric shock therapy to the brain for a number of months and, after each treatment, she would forget how to complete tasks she had been performing for many years, such as cooking. One night, when the family sat down to eat the meal she had prepared, my four siblings and I stared at one another round the table when faced with liver that looked like crisped cinders. Dad broke the silence with, ‘come on kids, eat up. Your Mum’s worked hard on this.’ He winked at us, took some burnt liver into his mouth and, when Mum wasn’t looking, gathered it into his serviette which he placed on his lap. So as not to upset Mum, we followed Dad’s lead, even to the point of complimenting her on how nice the meal was. At the end of the meal, we each had a lapful of liver tucked up our sleeves in serviettes and, one by one, asked to leave the table.
These photos, taken 15 years later, show she did eventually recover from that particular illness and as a family we went on to prepare and cook many a meal together… with no burnt liver in sight.
No doubt a variation of the above incidents/events will find their way into one of my future fictional stories, the seeds now firmly replanted in my journal of ideas. Indeed, the saplings are already pushing their way through a thousand other memories towards the surface as I write.
However, it is the popping eggs that have provided me with the reason I recently burnt that pan of water when steaming vegetables. I was simply distracted by something else, which is what happened in 1971. It comes somewhat as a relief to realise that I’m not completely useless in the kitchen after all, merely easily distracted.
I felt quite proud of myself this morning. I actually boiled a perfect egg for dipping toast soldiers into. But maybe a roast dinner is a bit ambitious just yet as I am totally out of practice with that one… so I’ll continue to sample the various eateries in and around Scarborough with my husband. After all, there’s only the two of us now and I think we deserve a break from cooking a meal – on Sundays at least.