Sultana Cake

It’s no mystery that the Internet is swamped with two types of people. Firstly, you have the super happy and excited. The blessed and the folk who love where they live. Those with amazeballs. I know I sound cynical, but I promise that I have nothing against these very happy people. I’ve been known to be happy myself more often than not. If you’re having an awesome day, more power to you. The second type I see all the time are the angry. The ones who are mad about the US Election, the weather, their asshole of a boss, and the guy who stole their carpark right out from under their nose. And, look. I get that, too. I do.

What I think we could see more of from bloggers, public figures, even from celebrities, is sadness. Because we all feel it sometimes, don’t we? It doesn’t make us weak, or boring, or unworthy of a reader’s time. It makes us normal human beings.

This afternoon I felt sad. Just a lingering, achy, hollow feeling that sat in the centre of my chest. I thought I’d tell you about it.

The last time my Nana and I talked was in April of 2013. It wasn’t a good conversation. We were sitting in her room at the resthome hospital – me stunned at how much she had deteriorated since my move to Australia, her frustrated and teary at her inability to tell me the things she wanted to say. I saw her again after that, but by the time that visit came and went, she was unable to say more than a few words. During a heartbreaking ten minutes, she tried to manipulate her frozen mouth into forming words, eventually managing to communicate that she thought the collar on my top was pretty. On that visit, I helped her drink a lukewarm cup of tea through a straw and broke off tiny pieces of cake for her, then pushed them into her mouth.

The thing you have to know about my Nana is that she was a notorious Chatty Cathy, a born storyteller. When she was on a roll, she barely drew a breath. Not being the most confident or articulate of people when it comes to the spoken word, I would sit enthralled whenever she spoke. As a child and as an adult. I loved hearing her voice, it didn’t matter to me that I had heard the story many times before. So to see her unable to say something simple, knowing that she probably had so much more to say – well, it broke me a little.

Today I was thinking about that last time I saw her. About the tea and the cake. She must have made me hundreds of cups of tea over the years, and I have been lucky enough to enjoy her homemade baking over and over again. I wanted to tell her that my daughter also loves to bake. I wished that she could bake something and take it to her, or that they could bake together. I wanted to be seven again, sitting at Nana’s table eating a piece of her sultana cake with a warm tea in a china cup.

But I couldn’t have that. And it made me sad.

I didn’t feel like baking. It was raining and cold, and I had been out all day helping at school and then shopping for food. I wanted to shut the door on my sadness and hide in my bedroom, electric blanket on, and book in hand. But when I started to unpack the groceries, I saw that I had bought a big bag of sultanas without even realising it. And I thought again about the cake.

That last time I really spoke to Nana, my family was staying in her house. Her things were still there: her hairbrush on the top of her dresser, hastily scribbled shopping lists on the backs of envelopes, toiletries in the bathroom. It looked like she had popped out to the shops or the gardening centre. She knew we were staying there and it made her happy. She wanted people in the house, hated the thought of it empty and cold. On that very last visit she held my hand and asked me to do something. She wanted me to go to her bookshelves and take the books I loved home with me. She wanted me to have some of her poetry books and her especially her handwritten cook books. Not because she was sentimental – because she was not – but because she thought the recipes might be useful.

Today I looked through her handwritten recipes, each with the name of the person who gave it to her neatly written alongside the title. I looked through newspaper cut outs from the 1950s, and ached ever harder at the sight of her loopy handwriting, so familiar from the birthday cards she sent me every year. I found the recipe. Sultana Cake: Doris.

I made Doris’s Sultana Cake. I made it in an old pottery bowl and beat the batter with a wooden spoon until my arm hurt. I had to convert all the ¾ pounds into grams and guess at her idea of a “moderate oven”. I thought about her the whole time I did it. It was delicious; it smelled just how I remembered.
Thank you, Nana. This one is for you.

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