“The family meal has undergone a steady devaluation from its one time role at the centre of human life, when it was the daily enactment of shared necessity and ritualized cooperation. Today, as never before in history, the meals of children are likely to have been cooked by strangers, to consist of highly processed foods that are produced far away, and are likely to be taken casually, greedily, in haste, and, all too often, alone.” Alice Walters
When I was young we were sent to my grandmothers house in the school holidays. She lived in a housing commission settlement in Taree, New South Wales (NSW), Australia. My grandfather was a steam engine driver and they lived on a pension from the NSW railways. For years she had followed him across the State to each new Yard he was stationed, raising five children along the way and finally settling in Taree.
From an adult perspective I can see she was as mad as a bush rat, quirky, insightful, loving, moody, compassionate, highly suspicious of erudition and strangely in awe of the benefits of castor oil. My grand parents argued continuously (like old married couples do) and he had his own oddities (he used to be in charge of shopping, so he would often buy multiple items that were on sale, bring them home and resell them to my grandmother). The remainder were stored under the old beds in the spare room. They had grown up and lived through both World wars.
Their house was immaculately kept and the back yard was full of every fruit and vegetable that you could grow. If we weren’t helping plant seeds or seedlings we were weeding, watering or turning over the considerable compost pile. They also kept a chook tractor which was periodically moved from garden bed to bed. They knew and respected their neighbours and swapped or gave away surplus harvests, chickens and eggs. The neighbours (a retired welder and boat builder) in turn, helped my grandfather to make his own boat, the trailer and the tow bar that he used to tow it behind his beige Morris Minor. We ate lots of the fish he caught.
If we weren’t helping him grow or harvest food we helped my grandmother prepare it. She was of the old school which believed that vegetables should be boiled until you you got rid of the colour and exotic spice = Keens curry powder. We all ate together around the kitchen table.
At the time I thought very little about the experience, at that age you’re as self-centred as a cyclone. I only realised what I had lost when I passed by the house years later, after they had both died. Their house had been passed on to others…all the trees and gardens were gone, shopping trolleys and wheel-less cars filled the front and rear yards, holes had been punched in the walls. I shamelessly cried for what I realised had been lost. Not just them as people, but the way of life they represented, a connection with family, community and nature.